Councillors in Ealing have voted to protect women from protesters at the Marie Stopes clinic after reports from women visiting the clinic for abortions said they were being harassed and intimidated.
The unanimous decision means that both anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners will not be able to stand within 100 metres of the clinic.
The Good Counsel Network, which holds daily vigils outside the clinic, denies their behavior as harassment.
Back in December 2017 Clare McCullough, a member of the pro-life organisation, told the BBC ‘we would fight, peacefully, any means to limit our presence here [outside the clinics].’
The decision to force back campaigners was greeted with applause by the Ealing Council Cabinet room, however, ironically a protester then burst into the meeting and accused the council of taking away their rights.
The Good Counsel Network has, according to their website, been offering ‘practical help and support to pregnant women’ for the past 20 years.
This week, however, there have been more reports in the UK media of their aggressive behaviour towards women attending the clinic, offering false information including a link between abortions and an increased risk of breast cancer, for which there is no conclusive medical evidence.
Other alleged tactics include calling women entering the clinics ‘murderers’, calling them ‘mum’, brandishing models of unborn fetus’, and displaying graphic and distressing imagery outside the clinics.
They legitimise their actions using religious scripture including Exodus 21:22-25 which prescribes the same death penalty for someone who causes the death of a baby in the womb as for someone who commits murder. Using this ‘logic’, many Christians believe that their God considers an unborn baby to be the same as a fully grown adult.
For anti-abortionists, is it not a matter of a woman’s right to choose, but a matter of the life and death of a human being.
However this issue, as West London Councillor Binda Rai tells the BBC, is not about abortion or even freedom of speech; ‘It is about the woman’s right to access healthcare with anonymity.’
This debate is not exclusive to London. In an interview with the BBC, Kitty Bar tells of her experience with pro-life supporters. ‘I didn’t just wake up and say ‘well I want an abortion this morning’. I had to think about it, think about my future and which way I wanted it to go. So for them to think that handing me a leaflet could change my mind is a bit insulting.’
Despite claims from the Good Counsel Network both in interviews and on their website, that they do not harass visitors to the clinics, and the ‘Statement of Peace’ document they require all members to sign promising not to act in an aggressive and harassing manner, the evidence, and now legal action against them would suggest otherwise.
If somebody feels they are being harassed then it must be addressed, irregardless of the ‘harassers’ interjections of innocence. This decision by Ealing Council is a strong step towards eliminating the damaging stigma surrounding issues like abortion.