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Alf Johnston is one of the pro-lifers who stands peacefully outside Thames Hospital each Friday.

THAMES, New Zealand, October 19, 2016 (LifeSiteNews) – Pro-abortion counter-protesters are hoping to use bully tactics to provoke a ban on their group and peaceful pro-life demonstrators who have saved at least three babies in the past five years and maybe dozens or even hundreds more.

The confrontation at Thames Hospital began this year when pro-abortion protesters confronted a handful of pro-lifers, all senior citizens, who had been keeping a peaceful vigil every Friday for five years because abortions are done that day.

The pro-abortion demonstrators, all at least a generation younger, “stood right beside our people and gradually pressured them back away from the street,” according to Voice for Life New Zealand communications manager Bernard Moran.

Four weeks ago, two female counter-protesters sandwiched an elderly pro-life man, and one forced a leg between his legs. “At that moment, a man with a camera jumped out and took pictures.”

The counter-protesters then complained to police and petitioned Thames Coromandel District Council to revoke both groups’ permits to assemble on the hospital site.

This is an example of the “Heckler’s Veto,” where opponents of a protest or public event heckle it or protest it so violently the legal authority is led to shut down the original event.

Moran says the pro-abortion group’s actions at Thames are “part of an overall strategy to generate public sympathy for an exclusion zone around all hospitals in New Zealand.” The current national government is opposed to exclusion zones, which have been put in place recently in the Australian state of Victoria and the territory of Tasmania. But if a Labour-Green coalition comes into power in elections scheduled for a year from now, an exclusion law is quite possible, Moran said.

“The National Party has been in power for three terms so people might just say it’s time to give the other fellows a turn,” he told LifeSiteNews.

The abortion lobby claims that the pro-lifers are harassing the women getting abortions just by being there. Terry Bellamak told New Zealand Radio, “The women who are out there, they're just trying to go about their day, they're just trying to access healthcare, they're just trying to get through the day. … Experiencing these clinic protesters, it's really confronting — they experience it basically as street harassment.”

The group’s website also accuses pro-lifers of brandishing “gory” signs and bloody plastic fetuses. Thames pro-life leader Lyn Hopkins denies that signs showing aborted babies have been displayed. “We have shown images of a 12-week-old fetus.”

But Hopkins acknowledges that one time a pro-life supporter from out of town came to the protest site with plastic fetal forms, some with their heads removed and painted red. “He’s been let know never to do that again,” she told LifeSiteNews.

Hopkins says the charge of harassment is groundless. “We stand quietly. We don’t talk to anyone unless they come over to talk to us,” she said. “We just encourage them to change their minds. We’re certainly not harassing them.”

She confirmed that three mothers informed them their presence caused them to relent on their plans for abortion. “That’s all we know about. But there could be others.” According to the national government’s statistics, abortions at the Thames Hospital have gone down from 500 a year to 180 during the five years Voice for Life has held their weekly vigil.

Hopkins said the pro-abortion group essentially chased the Voice for Life group from one corner to another around the intersection nearest the hospital until the district council ordered them both to stand on the same corner. “That was a very bad idea.” She said the pro-abortion demonstrators “told us they just want to shut us down” by provoking her group to retaliate. “But we don’t do anything. We just remain calm.”

Recent municipal elections have brought in new district councillors, Hopkins said. “Whether the new council takes away our permit is up in the air. We don’t know what we will do if they do that.”

Moran, however, told LifeSiteNews, “We don’t think you need a permit to assemble. Our people are just trying to be diplomatic.”