Back in 2015 it was reported here that a group called Helpers of God’s Precious Infants had begun ramping up their anti-abortion vigils outside a Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, West London.
Religious zealots targeted the clinic with a large picture of the Virgin of Guadalupe. They clutched rosary beads as they prayed, sang hymns, and raised their eyes and hands to the sky.
Lining the pavement were laminated photographs of human embryos in lurid colour, alternating with “cutesy” images of toddlers and rubber sculptures of foetuses. People entering and exiting the clinic were handed leaflets stating:
You will later regret it.
Well, the BBC today reports that councillors in Ealing have overwhelmingly backed a proposal to stop anti-abortion groups protesting outside the clinic.
Binda Rai, who brought the motion, said it would allow women to access:
To legal healthcare without intimidation.
The Good Counsel Network, another group that holds daily vigils outside the centre in Mattock Lane, denies harassing women.
The council motion said 3,593 residents signed a petition, delivered by campaign group SisterSupporter, backing the move.
SisterSupporter was founded by Anna Veglio-White, who, back in 2015 said:
When I returned from university this summer, I took up running and I noticed that they [the anti-abortionists] were now outside the clinic five or six days a week without fail. I saw how they approached women and used pictures and models of foetuses to try and discourage them from going inside.
I felt that there needed to be a consistent and concentrated effort to oppose them. All the local people I know are just as unhappy about the vigils, so I decided to harness their outrage to try and do something.
Speaking after the vote, Rai said there could be “national implications”, and that Ealing could be the first council to take action against protesters outside abortion clinics.
I’m absolutely thrilled that there was such huge support in the chamber for the motion, and right across the parties.
It was really good. And this is really a stand for women, and for women’s rights to access healthcare that is legally available to them.
She said the council may use a Public Space Protection Order (PSPOs), which give councils the power to crack down on perceived anti-social behaviour.
Richard Bentley, managing director of Marie Stopes UK, hailed the decision as:
Ground-breaking. We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area.
A spokesman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it welcomed the vote result and urged the government to introduce legislation banning protests at all clinics.
The situation in Ealing is sadly not unique, and women and clinic staff across the country report being followed, filmed, and harassed when trying to access or provide legal healthcare services. This has to stop.
Clare McCullough, the Good Counsel Network’s founder, told the BBC the group had held its vigil for 23 years “without any criminal charges”.
Responding to the prospect of a PSPO, McCullough said:
Most lawyers would agree those orders were not put in place for this kind of issue. They’re not there to suppress freedom of speech. I think it would be a grave misuse and would have implications for all kinds of groups who are protesting all kinds of things.
Hat tip: AgentCormac and BarrieJohn