LONDON (ChurchMilitant.com) - A borough council in London has abolished sidewalk vigils in front of abortion mills because people claim they feel intimidated and judged.
On Wednesday, the Ealing Council discussed a motion to create buffer zones around abortion mills allowing a number of pro-abortion activists to speak on behalf of women entering the clinic. Even a Marie Stopes employee was allowed time to speak on behalf of clients. Pro-life advocates had a number of women that they had helped willing to speak, but they were not given a chance to come forward.
After the nearly half-hour long bashing of pro-lifers as "wretched" and a "blight," the Ealing Council voted unanimously, except for two abstentions, in favor of creating buffer zones around abortion clinics to prevent pro-life advocates from holding vigils in front of abortion mills and approaching women.
"This ground-breaking move by Ealing Council sets a national precedent for ending the harassment of women using legal healthcare services," said Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes U.K.
The British people do not have their free speech protected in the same way as Americans do with the First Amendment. The right to free speech is assumed, and the government can place restrictions limiting free speech if they deem they are causing harm. Hate speech, harassment and intimidation are common reasons cited for free speech restrictions. For example, there are laws are in place that make denying the Jewish Holocaust a crime throughout much of Europe.
During the council meeting on Wednesday, supporters of the motion to stop pro-life vigils claimed women going to the clinic, employees of the clinic and even passers-by said they "felt intimidated" or "judged." Legal counsel claimed that the presence of the pro-life counselors invaded the privacy of the women and addeded to their distress.
On Tuesday, before the Ealing Council meeting, a BBC interview on television program Victoria Derbyshire showcased the debate. Anna Veglio-White, the founder of Sister Supporters and Binda Rai, the Ealing Labour Councillor who introduced the bill, spoke on behalf of the women and clinic. Claire McCulloch from the Good Counsel Network presented the pro-life case.
During the discussion, Veglio-White repeatedly accuses Good Counsel Network of providing misinformation, filming women and harassing women by calling them "Mum" or "murderers." Listing off numerous complaints such as being "shouted at," "grabbed on arm" and alleging they told a teenage girl that she would be "haunted by her baby," McCulloch was interrupted and talked over many times while she attempted to refute the claims.
McCulloch replied, "It's easy to make unsubstantiated accusations. Nobody has to produce the evidence, it's just said." She mentioned that the Marie Stopes clinic has cameras mounted at several locations, and there has never been video evidence brought forward proving the claims.
Veglio-White even went so far as to accuse Good Counsel Network of trying to abolish abortion, saying, "That is actually what it's about. Trying to remove the option of termination from these women."
McCullach stated she has repeatedly asked news networks to interview women who opted to keep their babies but was told that "these women were not relevant to the debate." Derbyshire even interrupted McCulloch to accuse her of threatening that she would "shame you on social media" if they didn't allow them to interview women who had chosen life and had been helped by Good Counsel Network. McCulloch disagreed, saying, "If you refuse to speak to them, we will make it known to social media that these women's voices wouldn't to be included in the debate."
Instead of discussing how the women had been helped or why they weren't relevant to the debate, the interview turned to Rai to continue the lists of complaints against the pro-life counselors, claiming residents are saying "they feel harassed, they feel intimidated." She says the presence of counselors "is blighting their life every single day." She says the prayers, hymns and counseling should not be done outside the clinic, saying, "I think you can take that discussion elsewhere."
A BBC radio interview posted by Right to Life on Thursday allowed McCulloch the opportunity to explain what they do while holding vigil. She said, "It's very clear that women entering abortion centers are distressed. full stop." When asked how she can be sure she isn't adding to the women's distress, she says, "Abortion is distressing ... There is nothing that can happen to her that isn't going to be distressing."
The interviewer even tried to twist Christianity to show pro-life advocacy is against it saying, "People of faith are there to make life easier, to make it kinder, to make it nicer. If you add to somebody's distress, it's hardly what anyone who follows a religion would want to do."
She argued that the images of babies and information in the leaflets are the same as is supposed to be given to women at the clinic. However, their leaflet describes all the help and support that they can receive from pro-life groups, something she says Sister Supporters and Marie Stopes does not.
McCulloch also noted that it is not the pro-life groups filming women entering the clinic but Sister Supporters members, saying, "There is no evidence of us filming outside the clinic."A blog post from May says that it is the feminists that are filming women entering the clinic. They posted the featured picture and wrote, "Here is one of their male 'feminists' filming a woman who has just entered, who our Counsellor to the left of the gate was speaking to." They go on to say that after the Good Counsel Network took this picture, Sister Supporters members "are standing in the street screaming that our Counsellors are filming women going in because we took photos of them filming women going in."
McColloch also argues that the counter-protests by the pro-abortion activists are the cause of the distress. Sister Supporters regularly send 20-40 protesters while Good Counsel Network has two members, passing out leaflets and listening to the stories of the women who are considering abortion. "Women going in don't often know who's who, they just see a bunch of people outside a clinic,"McColloch explains.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service praised Ealing's vote in favor of buffer zones and said in a statement on Tuesday, "We urge the government to follow the example set by Ealing Council, take responsibility for the safety and wellbeing of women seeking abortion care and put forward legislation to introduce buffer zones as a matter of urgency."
Church Militant reached out to Good Counsel Network but they have not responded.