Local councils are increasingly trying to silence pro-life groups
A pro-life charity has condemned a London council for its “authoritarian and discriminatory” decision to remove a pro-life stall from a fete.
Life, an organisation that helps women in crisis pregnancies, was allowed to set up a stall at the Lambeth Country Show last month.
However, when its volunteers arrived for the second day of the show, they discovered the stand had been taken down. Officials told them Lambeth borough council had decided to remove it because it was “against the values of Lambeth council” and “not in line with the causes the council has been funding and supporting”.
There followed a series of claims and counter-claims over whether Life had really been authorised to put up the stall (they provided evidence to show they had been), and whether they had been honest in their application. Life say they did nothing misleading.
Lambeth council also claimed people had complained about the stall, especially the life-sized dolls of unborn children. “It’s a community festival – that includes women who have had to make really hard family planning decisions who don’t want plastic foetuses in their faces,” Councillor Ed Davie initially explained on Twitter.
In a subsequent statement, Davie said women who had experienced miscarriage were upset at the dolls. “These dolls were not in the pictures Life submitted in their application for a stand and had they been they would not have been granted a pitch,” he said.
However, Life’s director of education Anne Scanlan said the dolls were no more graphic than anything that could be seen on any pregnancy website, including the NHS site.
“At a time when there is a clamour for free speech and allowing dissenting voices to be heard, we have a local council aggressively shutting down the voice of pro-lifers trying to reach out to vulnerable women in crisis and educating people about life in the womb,” she said.
Student pro-life campaigners may find the incident familiar: Freshers’ Fair organisers have several times cracked down on pro-life societies, on the grounds that their stalls are offensive.
The dispute in Lambeth is the latest in a series of incidents where councils have targeted the pro-life movement. Pro-lifers increasingly fear that abortion activists are gaining a foothold on local authorities and using their powers to persecute anyone who dissents from their ideology.
Ealing council, also in London, used a Public Space Protection Order to ban all protests around a Marie Stopes clinic earlier this year. Other councils, including Lambeth, are considering following suit.
Soon, all pro-life activity, including prayer, could be made illegal outside abortion centres in Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Birmingham, Portsmouth, Southwark and numerous other locations. Abortion campaigners are also calling on the Home Secretary to introduce a nationwide ban.
Public Space Protection Orders have been subject to criticism since the government introduced them in 2014. They allow councils to restrict anti-social activities in specific areas, but the legislation is so broad that critics say it allows local authorities to ban virtually any activity for whatever reason they like.
Abortion supporters are taking advantage of that arbitrary power to crack down on pro-life activity, often justifying their actions with dubious reasoning. Ealing Council said its ban was necessary due to complaints of harassment outside the abortion centre. However, the vigil had been gathering at the Marie Stopes clinic for 20 years largely without incident. Many complaints had only come in after a pro-abortion counter-protest began disrupting the vigil.
Is there anything the pro-life movement can do? Alina Dugheriu, a mother who decided to keep her child after receiving help from a pro-life vigil, is crowdfunding an appeal against the Ealing buffer zone. She needs £50,000 to cover her legal costs after the High Court rejected an initial challenge.
“Hundreds of women have received practical help and support outside abortion centres across the UK,” she says. “I was offered help outside of an abortion centre when I didn’t have any alternatives. Without this help, my only option was an abortion, and I know many others face the same situation. So far, Dugheriu has raised £30,000, and has filed a case at the Court of Appeal.
Even if she wins, however, the fact remains that an increasing number of local councillors are determined to do all they can to silence the pro-life movement. The next attempt can only be a matter of time.
Being pro-abortion has never been more fashionable among the political class. Faced with all this, pro-life activists might consider standing for office themselves. Without a major political change, events like Lambeth could become ever more common.