Just over two years ago, a Romanian woman called Alina was working in the UK as a live-in au pair. When she became unexpectedly pregnant, with the biological father not wanting to support her, Alina chose to go to the Marie Stopes facility in Mattock Lane, Ealing, to have an abortion.
When she arrived however, a member of the Good Counsel Network (GCN), a Catholic charity who hold vigils outside the facility, offered her a leaflet and all the help she would need to keep her baby. She accepted this help, and received housing, help with baby care, and money to live on, including with her rent, and her baby girl (now 2) was born. Alina now joins in the vigils herself to offer support to women who are in the same situation she once was.
Despite this and many other stories of women helped by such vigils, this week Ealing Council voted to impose a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) around the Mattock Lane Marie Stopes clinic. The aim of this is to exclude and censor any vigil of Christian pro-life volunteers who want to pray and offer help to women who are going through unplanned pregnancy.
This move was the culmination of a campaign by the national abortion lobby, led by leading abortion industry organisation BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), to falsely caricature the vigils as examples of ‘harassment’ against vulnerable women, and shut down any vigil outside their facilities by the use of what they used to call ‘buffer zones’, and now style ‘safe zones’, which PSPOs may constitute.
The campaign for this has been steady and maintained over the last few years, and has allowed a narrative to form, helped by a certain British prejudice about ‘American-style’ pro-life campaigning, in which nastily judgemental Christians are attacking women in the vulnerable position of needing ‘medical care’, and intimidating them into not having abortions.
Accusations have been made of vigil attendees regularly ‘shouting’ at women, ‘recording’ them going in to the facility, ‘blocking’ their way along the pavement, and otherwise pressuring them into not entering the Mattock Lane facility. Proper evidence for all this is non-existent.
PSPOs are not merely unnecessary, but an illiberal attempt by pro-abortion politicians and their allies to chill and shut down the freedom of association of people who care for, and help, women in unplanned pregnancy.
In Ealing, the one main group that is active on a regular basis is GCN, the group that helped Alina, who have operated in Mattock Lane for almost 24 years. GCN vigils consist of men and women praying, handing out leaflets, and offering help to women going in to have abortions.
This is an illiberal attempt by pro-abortion politicians to chill and shut down the freedom of association of people who help women in unplanned pregnancy
On a daily basis, if you were to visit Mattock Lane to look at their vigils, you would see two or three people across the street from the Marie Stopes facility praying, with another person next to the entrance offering leaflets. Christians and pro-lifers should recognise that for some people, especially those ignorant of Christianity or religion more generally, this might be discomfiting. There genuinely are some who are threatened by the sight of people praying, or who more realistically may dislike the implicit judgement of abortion that such activity suggests in that context, and may impute unkind motivations to those engaging in it.
Nonetheless, this is as far as perceived negativity can realistically go. What you will not see in Mattock Lane is shouting, physical altercations, anyone approaching women menacingly, or indeed anything that could be objectively classified as ‘harassment’. Not a single piece of photographic or videographic evidence has been brought to show any harassment or intimidation happening in Ealing. This is despite the fact that the Marie Stopes facility has a video camera that records not only their own property, but the space outside it. In the near quarter-century that Good Counsel Network have been operating, not a single member of their organisation has been arrested or cautioned by the police.
Despite this, a pro-abortion so-called ‘feminist’ group calling itself ‘Sister Supporter’ (SS), was set up to ‘counter-protest’ against the pro-life vigils, accusing them of attacking women, and claiming to protect those who enter the facility. (This despite the fact that their own noise and activities are far more intimidating than three ladies praying quietly across from a building.)
After having done this, the SS met with Ealing councillors to instigate the process of introducing PSPOs, so as to shut down the vigils once and for all. They have been successful for now, as the Labour-dominated Council passed an historically shameful vote (albeit as expected) to prevent any vigil in Mattock Lane. They did so after a faux-consultation in which every pro-abortion testimony was counted as a separate response, but all pro-life testimonies lumped into one. Hopefully, this will be overturned in the courts.
Pro-life vigils will certainly offend the secular and permissive sensibilities of many, but this should not be a crime. If we want Christianity to continue to provide a prophetic and compassionate role in the public square, we must stand against censorship zones and the bullying of the abortion lobby.
Knowing the truth of this issue, I hope every Christian will join the Be Here For Me campaign and others to write to their MPs and Councillors, standing for the freedom of association of pro-life campaigners to offer help and solidarity to vulnerable women and their babies in every Borough in the land.
Peter D Williams is executive officer of Right To Life