It’s not exactly news. For many years now, the right to publicly protest has been coming under attack by people who are determined to shut down dissenting voices. You don’t actually need to be protesting to have your voice silenced – these days all you need is your publicly stated opinion that goes against the approved political view. So cake makers are fined in Northern Ireland for refusing to make a celebration cake for a gay wedding, a president a student socity of an Irish university is impeached simply for believing it’s wrong to kill unborn children, university pro-life and christian clubs are shut down simply for being pro-life and christian, a teacher in Cambridge is disciplined by his board and may lose his job for not referring to a transgender girl as a boy, and et cetera. And in another nuance on the possibilities of eroding democracy and shutting down free speech, there is the increasingly intense battle to put an end to peaceful prayer, protest and any presence at all by pro-life people outside abortion businesses.
Recently, in Ealing, London, UK, a group that has met together outside a Marie Stopes business and prayed and offered help and alternatives to women and girls for 22 years has been forced to stop gathering. Rupa Huq, MP for Ealing, has had it in for this particular group for some time.
For many years, the sight of the peaceful group has caused her to “silently seethe with rage” she says in an article for the Guardian. She’s not joking.
Whether she’s intentionally exaggerating or not, she unequivocally damns pro-life vigils for being ‘increasingly virulent’, ‘abusive’ towards women and marked by the presence of ‘wildly inaccurate and gruesome foetus dolls and graphic signs’. She’s helped get an opposing group, Sister Supporter (aggressively pro-choice) to stand outside the business grounds and actively resist the peaceful pro-life vigil. Most importantly Huq, together with Sister Supporter, have succeeded in their aim.
Members of Sister Supporter (who accuse pro-lifers of filming women) filming a pavement counsellor outside the Marie Stopes Centre in Mattock Lane.
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Sister Supporter sent this information pack (documenting all evidence that the pro-life protesters were harassing/intimidating women) to Ealing council in order to encourage the councillors to vote to extend asbo powers to shut down the pro-life vigils. The result, a positive vote, was applauded by London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, and numerous other organisations and media outlets.
While I’m sure Huq is relieved to be rid of this single, quiet reminder of the injustice of abortion, her plans aren’t limited to Ealing: her dream is for a buffer zone to surround every abortion business in the UK.
She’s actively seeking to table an amendment to the Domestic Violence Bill that would include the ability for all abortion businesses used by the NHS to have buffer zones.
Westminster’s MPs have recently voted on their opinion of Ealing council’s stance. The result that has come in is highly concerning for free speech: 57% of MPs have voted in favour of Ealing’s new measure, 24% are opposed and the rest are swing voters who are currently undecided. In order to capitalise on the interest this issue has raised, Rupa Huq will soon be chairing a debate for MPs at Westminster to discuss new proposals for public legislation cracking down on family planning clinics. In Ireland, the same accusations are being made and steps are being taken to try to shut down protest. MPs from Belfast have met with Westminster to persuade them to take steps to make buffer zones around abortion centers standard practice.
It’s the same everywhere, though. Groups of peaceful and loving pro-life people who meet to pray and help women at the last possible moment, are subjected to vitriol and hatred, accusations of intimidation and harassment. There are, undoubtedly, the odd occasions where the fact that women are going to have their children murdered bears down strongly on someone’s mind, and they say too much. That’s unfortunate, though also totally understandable when you consider they’re witnessing women walk into a clinic and will watch the same woman stumble out later on, childless.
What’s more surprising is that almost 100% of the time, the vigils are respectful, quiet, and genuinely caring – evidenced by one woman’s beautiful testimony to having her baby’s life saved by the Ealing prolife vigil. Sister Supporter, a single example that stands in for thousands of similar ‘escort’ groups, that help a woman get into the abortion facility without coming into contact with a pro-life person, is on the other hand aggressive, angry and abusive by very nature.
One woman’s well-documented account of the Ealing Matlock Lane pro-life vigil and the attacks by Sister Supporter serves to highlight the difference in attitude of the two groups. In one breath-taking paragraph she explains that these women entering the Marie Stopes abortion business believe that they do not have any other choice except to have their children killed, thus destroying the ‘pro-choice’ argument. Further, she explains that the ‘pro-choice’ supporters and activists are not there to help the women in any other way except guide them into the abortion facility. No offers of supporting her to carry through with her pregnancy.
Many of them, she says, are poor minorities who are disadvantaged in many ways and who have massive pressure from parents or partners to abort their child.
Attempts to force silence on the issue of abortion should cause us to speak louder and work harder. Where there is a concerted effort to suppress dissenting views, we must be more faithful to go out and pray and help women outside abortion businesses. For so many of these women, a small space of pavement is the first and last place they might get any help.