UK court agrees to hear free speech challenge to ban on pro-life prayer outside abortion center
LONDON, England, January 11, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – A British court has ruled that a pro-life activist may challenge a legal decision banning prayer and support for women in crisis pregnancies outside a notorious abortion business.
The UK Court of Appeal will hear Alina Dulgheriu’s challenge against London’s Ealing Council (municipal government) regarding its Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which criminalized pro-life presence outside Marie Stopes Ealing. According to the Order, no one near the business may express approval or disapproval of abortion, pray, hand out literature offering material support to women who might wish an alternative to abortion, or “interfere” with the business’s clients in any way.
Typically PSPOs are used to curb public nuisances, like drunken behavior or dogs running out of control. Civil rights activists have argued since their introduction in 2014 that they could be used to shut down freedom of speech and assembly in public spaces. The Ealing Council ban on any pro-life presence outside the Marie Stopes abortion business proved their point.
Alina Dulgheriu is a mother who was supported by members of a pro-life vigil held outside a London abortion facility. She filed an appeal against Ealing Council last spring. Although the High Court accepted that her rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly had been infringed by the PSPO, it ultimately upheld the order. Dulgheriu and her “Be Here for Me” allies subsequently held a campaign to fund a further appeal, raising over £50,000 ($64,113 USD) in under three months.
In a press release, Dulgheriu said she was “delighted” that the Court of Appeal will reconsider the “very disappointing decision” of the High Court.
“My little girl is here today because of the real, practical and emotional support that I was given by a group outside a Marie Stopes centre, and I am continuing with this appeal to ensure that women in Ealing and all across the country do not have this vital support option to removed.”
Dulgheriu observed that instead of responding to the needs of at-risk women, the Council had “criminalised charity and attempted to remove dedicated and caring individuals from public space without justification.”
“I cannot imagine a society where a simple offer of help to a woman who might want to keep her child is seen as a criminal offence,” she added. “I refuse to accept that women should be denied the opportunity to receive help where they want to keep their child.”
Although powerful supporters of the UK abortion industry called for similar PSPOs to be imposed across the country, even some pro-abortion British activists protest using PSPOs to shut down freedom. In May 2018, leading LGBT activist Peter Tatchell was among the pro-abortion signatories of a letter to the Times condemning the Ealing Council PSPO.
“Ealing Council’s PSPO is so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on fundamental rights, particularly the prohibition on ‘protest,’ which includes ‘engaging in any act of approval/disapproval’ by ‘any means’ — including prayer,” they wrote.
“Where groups interfere with access to abortion services — through harassment, abuse, obstruction or surveillance — this is already prohibited under law. For example, the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits causing harassment, alarm or distress and includes a specific power to impose conditions on assemblies that seek to intimidate others,” they continued. “However, abortion clinic PSPOs fail to make a distinction between activities causing objective harm and activities with which people disagree. We believe that this goes against long-standing principles of common law and human rights law, as well as the statutory guidance on PSPOs.”
Their concerns have not been dismissed. Last September the British Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, announced that he would not be imposing nationwide “buffer zones” outside abortion businesses, saying that such a measure “would not be a proportionate response” given the realities of pro-life activism in the UK.