All charges dropped against UK pro-life group using graphic images
BRIGHTON, September 17, 2012 (LifeSiteNews.com) – All charges were dropped today against pro-life campaigners in Brighton who were charged with a “public order” offence for showing graphic images of aborted children outside a local branch of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, one of Britain’s busiest abortion facilities.
Andrew Stephenson, head of the pro-life campaign group Abort 67, told LifeSiteNews.com today that they hope the Brighton Magistrate court’s decision means that their growing pro-life campaign, which is spreading all over England, will now be able to function without the constant fear of police harassment participants have faced up until now.
“We’ve said all along that the police are creating a chilling effect on freedom of expression in this country. So now we hope that this court decision will have a chilling effect on the police.”
Although more and more groups are springing up around Britain who want to use the highly effective posters and banners in their pro-life work, the actions of police in June 2011, when Stephenson and his colleague Kathryn Sloane were arrested under section 5 of the Public Order Act, created an atmosphere of unease.
“The trouble is that up until now it’s been unpredictable whether we would be able to carry on with our displays or not. Certainly the fact that those banners could be taken down and people arrested was preventing people’s access to information,” said Stephenson.
“But common sense prevailed today. We had a very strong case so it was very difficult for the judge to do anything but throw the case out.”
The case has generated much public interest. When the charges against Kathryn Sloane were thrown out on Friday, the story was the lead on the BBC Southeast’s evening television news broadcast, and today’s decision again topped the program. Despite the BBC’s demonstrated pro-abortion bias, the broadcaster emphasized the importance of the case as a freedom of speech test case in the midst of a tense political atmosphere where more and more Christians are complaining their views are being suppressed.
Stephenson said, “There is a sense of outrage that the police believe they have the power to shut down a message that’s true if someone else doesn’t like it. It’s as if they feel that if Person A dislikes Person B, or anything they’re saying, then Person A just has to complain to the police and it’s job done.” The case, he said, has illuminated “what’s been going on right under our noses.”
Perhaps paradoxically, the pro-lifers say the arrest and court proceedings have actually highlighted the need for demonstrations that show the graphic truth about the nature of abortion. Stephenson told LSN that the use of the photos, controversial even within the pro-life movement, can now be shown using court documents to be an effective vehicle for public education and the photos themselves unassailably true.
What the prosecution was trying to prove, he said, “was something unprovable, that a photo of an aborted baby can be ‘abusive or insulting’. But a true photograph can’t be abusive.”
He cited the testimony of one of the witnesses for the prosecution, Robert Wyatt, who said that when he and his wife had gone into the BPAS facility, they had been offered no counselling, despite the claims made by the organisation. Wyatt testified that he found the images on the posters “offensive,” but more crucially, he had no idea what the images were of.
While BPAS continues to claim that they offer full information on fetal development and all medical aspects of abortion, Wyatt confirmed that he had been offered no counselling of any kind, and that he thought the pro-lifers’ photos were of much older children. The images in the photos clearly show arms, legs and facial features, even though the posters typically carry only photos of early term abortions, usually before 12 weeks gestation.
“He thought there can’t be facial features; that this had to be a much older baby,” Stephenson said. “Then he was cross-examined, and asked did you receive any counselling? Because if he had, he was being led to believe that an 11-week-old baby was actually a six-month-old baby.
“But it turned out they received no counseling at all from BPAS, pre-abortion. They just didn’t have those questions answered.”
The exchange, Stephenson said, “certainly justified our reason for being there, exposing a huge misunderstanding about pregnancy, and about how much the abortion industry is covering up the facts.”
Throughout the western world, these graphic images displays, popularized by the highly organised Genocide Awareness Campaign, (GAP) are stirring controversy. In many pro-life circles, they are regarded as harsh and frightening, and therefore counterproductive. But the people who use them say that they have seen nearly miraculous results from showing the truth of abortion in a way that no one can deny.
“People say we are misleading and are wrong. They argue that for women abortion is the last resort and they have thought long and hard about it. But the truth is that they don’t have any real information,” said Stephenson.
“This means they’re vulnerable to the lies of the abortion industry. In a way, our work is simply about consumer protection. About giving women full disclosure about abortion so they can make a truly informed decision.”
Stephenson and the many young GAP enthusiasts say that the pictures belong right where abortion-minded women can see them.
“We believe that outside an abortion clinic is exactly the right place to be doing this. We are there because this is where the killing is going on. We’re there to empower the women with the facts. To help them come to a better decision.”
“We feel vindicated and pleased that justice is being done. But this is a bit of cold comfort to the unborn babies being killed all the time when we’ve been prevented from showing the pictures.”
LifeSiteNews.com also spoke with Gregg Cunningham, an American who flew to Britain to testify on behalf of Abort 67. Cunningham developed the GAP campaign in the late 1990s and since then it has spread throughout the US, Canada and now to Britain and Ireland. In the course of this work, Cunningham has faced opposition of all imaginable kinds.
He told LSN that this case in Britain is a landmark for the pro-life movement.
“I helped design the defence for Abort 67 because the US has been litigating these kinds of cases for decades. And even though this was just a magistrate’s court, it sends a powerful message to the police all over England. If our people are arrested we will simply show them the proof.”
Referring to another lawsuit being threatened by another abortion industry giant, Marie Stopes International, against a crisis pregnancy centre for handing out information on abortion, Cunningham said that he hopes the outcome of this court case will give them pause.
“I certainly hope that the crisis pregnancy centres will fight back and I will say we will be glad to help them defend that lawsuit.”
He compared the abortion industry’s tactics to that of the tobacco industry when they were confronted with studies showing cigarettes cause lung cancer. In the end, the litigation forced the tobacco industry to release their documents showing they were covering up information.
“The parallels are very strong. We’ve got the abortion industry attacking the validity and the methodology of studies showing the link to breast cancer and abortion. It’s always a big part of the strategy of these big industries.
In the course of developing Abort 67’s defence, Cunningham found that the National Health Service formally requires that patients be given full information on the risks of medical procedures, even if the patient does not want to hear.
“They say that it’s unethical to not impose that information over the patient’s objection. That it is a requirement of informed consent.” But the abortion the industry is attempting to suppress and withhold this vital health information, he said.
“It’s the same tactic of every powerful industry. They attempt to stifle dissent, crush the opposition, and end the debate about the welfare of women.
“It’s abusive and manipulative. We want to empower women. These crisis pregnancy centres and pro-life organisations are about empowerment of women with true information.”