Life, which was evicted from the Lambeth Country Show, is now suing Lambeth Council, on the grounds that the Council has infringed their freedom of speech.
Life is pretty counter-cultural, given the fact that almost everyone in a position of authority in Britain has signed up to the idea that legal abortion is beyond discussion, and that the Abortion Act represents the settled will of the British people. In fact, the only political party that does not support abortion – the Democratic Unionists – are regularly portrayed as outliers in the national conversation, and that is putting it politely.
Life, like the DUP, is viewed as an irritant, and it can hardly come as a surprise that Lambeth Council ejected them from their show; the real surprise is that they got in there in the first place.
Needless to say, I support Life. Moreover, I support them in their courageous attempts to speak about abortion when almost everyone else wants them to shut up. Abortion needs to be discussed and the more it is discussed the better, because, it seems to me, the more people realise what it entails, the less they will support it. Which, presumably is the reason that pro-abortion people do not want to discuss abortion, except in the most abstract terms.
This was the case in the recent Irish referendum, where the campaign to revoke the Eighth Amendment was couched in terms of “choice” and “healthcare” or even “abortion care”, the last an attempt to make abortion look caring by putting two rather different words side by side, drawing on a long history of using verbal manipulation as a political weapon.
But beyond the question of abortion, the Life case against Lambeth Council opens up wider questions.
First of all, must we silence everyone and everything we do not like? The answer to this must be no, for if we go down that path, where will that path end? Just as I uncomplainingly put up with things that I disagree with (and in contemporary Britain, that is a lot) so Lambeth Council can surely tolerate a Life stall.
It could be argued that Lambeth Council is not obliged to give a platform to people they do not like. But that is a feeble argument. For on what grounds is Lambeth Council to judge what passes and what does not? Surely they are not equipped to pronounce judgment on any organisation that is within the law? They are, after all, a Council, an organ of local government: moral censorship is not part of their remit. (The same must go for Universities.) If they wish to take up the role of moral policemen, then let them justify that role with carefully argued reasons. I think they would find that hard to do.
The next thing to note is that the national conversation constantly needs to be enriched by a diversity of voices. When everyone in the public sphere starts agreeing with everyone else, then you have a problem. Britain has become, or is in danger of becoming, a totalitarian society with regard to abortion. Life and other pro-life groups have a vital part to play, in that they are there to remind us all, whoever we may be, that the seeming consensus may not be not soundly based. Indeed, this is the role of the Church as well – to be a critical friend to society and to remind it that it could be mistaken not just on this but on other issues as well.
And now we are to have a court case about whether the Council were right or wrong according to law in expelling Life from their Country Show. That could get interesting. If the ban is upheld, then it means that we are all, whatever our views, at the mercy of the judgment of Lambeth Council and similar bodies. But I hope the matter does not come to court and that Lambeth Council backs down. Why can’t Life have a stall at its Country Show? What is the harm? Or does Lambeth Council think that pro-life views are so dangerous that the public needs to be protected from them?