A West London council unanimously approved a buffer zone banning protesters from a local abortion clinic, but pro-life activists say it “criminalizes prayer.”
Ealing Council made the unanimous decision to approve the buffer zone on Tuesday evening, to the delight of pro-choice activists who claimed that it “was just the beginning,” according to The Telegraph. The approved buffer zone, or Public Space Protection Order, bans all protesters or demonstrators from the area surrounding Marie Stopes Clinic. Pro-life Activists claim that the suggestion for the buffer zone ignores the testimonies of women who have been helped by pro-life demonstrators and also say that it bans not only protesting, but censors prayer as well, according to Crux Now.
The council issued a denial, but admitted in the denial that the buffer zone does ban any form of prayer that promotes any discernible stance on abortion.
“It should be clear from the order that the only ‘prayer’ which is prohibited is that which amounts to an act of approval/disapproval of issues relating to abortion services … It is not a general ban on prayer and it applies only within the ‘safe zone’ defined by the order,” said a statement from the council, according to Crux.
Representatives of Be Here For Me, a pro-life organization for mothers against the buffer zone, said that Ealing Council acquiesced to pro-choice demands and narrative without any consideration for the aid that pro-life demonstrators have supplied to women in desperate situations.
“The report ignores the testimony of women who have been helped by vigils,” said a statement from Be Here For Me, according to Crux.
“The PSPO is so broadly worded that it criminalizes offers of support to women, as well as criminalizing prayer,” the statement added.
The organization’s website displays at least 14 testimonies from women who went to an abortion clinic seeking to terminate their pregnancies but ultimately decided to keep their babies after pro-life activists offered them support and made them aware of their options.
A testimony from a woman named Isabel reads on the website:
I was worried because I was on my own. I didn’t know what to do any more. How will I take this pregnancy from here, then from there how will I keep my baby? So those were the things coming through my mind at that time. When I got there I met a lady outside the abortion clinic. She greeted me, offered me a leaflet and I decided to talk to her. I was lost, I didn’t know what to do with the pregnancy. She asked me why I was there and I told her everything. She was like “If there is any way I could get support for you, would that put you in a position where you felt you did not have to terminate the pregnancy” and I said ‘Yes, if I am able to get the support, I do want to keep this baby.’ So I was assured.
Isabel went on to say that she was on the verge of going homeless, but that The Good Counsel Network provided her with accommodation and financial support for both her and her child, before and after her pregnancy, until she could get her feet underneath her.
“If there was no one outside the clinic I don’t think I would have kept the baby….And I’m happy now that I met someone at the clinic that day, because I can’t imagine what I would have been like that if I had not met the woman there I would have terminated the pregnancy. Seeing my baby now, I’m so happy that I met someone that very day,” Isabel added in her testimony.
The recommendation for the buffer zone came after allegations that pro-life demonstrators were harassing women at the abortion clinic. John Hansen-Brevetti, the clinic’s clinical operations manager, told The Telegraph that pro-life activists had thrown holy water on women coming to the clinic, shoved rosary beads in their faces, and claimed that the ghosts of their babies would haunt them. Pro-life organizations flatly denied that any such behavior was condoned or had taken place.
“If people were genuinely being intimidated then of course we would want to condemn that, but there are laws in place about harassment and intimidation and nobody has been arrested at these sites,” Society for the Protection of Unborn Children spokeswoman Alithea Williams told Parliament, according to The Telegraph.
Antonia Tully, also of SPUC, told Parliament the stories of harassment “is not what is happening.”
Members of pro-choice organizations meanwhile expressed their elation.
“It’s pretty incredible, we just hope we see the effect of this all over the country,” Anna Veglio-White, co-founder of SisterSupporter, told The Telegraph.
Hansen-Brevetti also praised the decision, saying that he hoped the measure was only the first of many such steps throughout the U.K.
“We’re also so hopeful that this is just the beginning, that other councils are watching and taking note, that Parliament itself, the Home Affairs Select Committee, will continue to look at this issue and find a solution that works not just for Ealing but for the whole of the UK,” Hansen-Brevetti told The Telegraph.
Ealing Council’s PSPO is the first to be legislated and enforced at an abortion clinic anywhere in the U.K., according to Crux.
“This will be the end of a vital support option that hundreds of women have accessed at Ealing in recent years,” Be Here For Me told Crux.
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