MPs vote to ban pro-life support outside abortion clinics, but Bill is unlikely to become law

MPs have voted in favour of a Bill that would deny women practical and emotional support outside abortion clinics.

Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq’s Demonstrations (Abortion Clinics) Ten Minute Rule Bill passed by 213 votes to 47.

It calls for legislation “to restrict demonstrations in the vicinity of abortion clinics; and for connected purposes.”

However, as it is a Ten Minute Rule Motion it is very unlikely it will be given further time by the Government to be debated in Parliament. It is even less likely that it will become law.

‘Criminalised free speech zones’ would effectively ban volunteers from offering practical and emotional support to women entering abortion clinics across England and Wales. They would also ban individuals from peacefully praying in the vicinity of clinics.

Home Office review

Due to additional powers handed over to councils in 2014 by the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, a number of councils have already introduced localised ‘criminalised free speech zones’, called Public Space Protection Orders. 

Ealing council, in Dr Huq’s constituency, is one such council along with Richmond. In addition, Manchester City Council has consulted its residents on the matter, while seven other councils are reported to be looking into the issue. 

In 2017, former Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, launched a review into the scale and nature of pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics to establish if the Government would recommend the introduction of censorship zones. 

In the investigation continued by the succeeding Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, over 2,500 responded to a call for evidence, including abortion service providers, abortion service clients, those engaging in anti-abortion demonstrations, police forces and local authorities.

In 2018, Sajid Javid announced that the Home Office did not find adequate reason to introduce censorship zones, stating that: “…introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature. In making my decision, I am also aware that legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others.”

Abortion lobby’s long-term plan to limit choice

Speaking earlier today, Dr Rupa Huq claimed the Bill “is about the rights of vulnerable women seeking access to healthcare in safety, anonymity and dignity.”

However the Labour MP has been a longtime and proud supporter of abortion provider BPAS’ ‘Back Off’ campaign which calls for nationwide ‘criminalised free speech zones’ which ban peaceful pro-life activity outside abortion clinics.

In a 2017 opinion piece for the Guardian, the Labour MP revealed “ideas have been percolating” on how to go about restricting pro-life demonstrations since January 2017.

‘Drastic overreaction’

Speaking out against the Bill, Conservative MP Fiona Bruce described the motion as “regressive” and a “drastic overreaction” that would undermine freedoms of speech and conscience.

The pro-life MP, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group, said the majority of people gathering outside family planning facilities were acting peacefully.

She told MPs: “Let me clear, I do not condone aggressive protest activities outside abortion clinics.

“But these are in the minority and imposing national legislation where it is not required to tackle these would be a drastic overreaction because of the potential damage this bill could do to the more widely held freedom of speech in this country.”

In her closing remarks, Fiona then shared the testimony of Alina Dulgheriu, just one of many mothers who decided to keep their baby as a result of the practical and emotional support received outside of an abortion clinic.

Alina will soon challenge the use of ‘criminalised free speech zones’ at the European Court of Human Rights.

Explaining why she’s taking the case forward, Alina said: “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 going to appeal this decision to ensure that women do not have this vital support option removed.

“I will continue to stand up for the women whose voices have been sidelined throughout this process and for women who need life-saving support today but cannot get it. 

“It is very clear that many are opposed to Ealing’s ban on peaceful and charitable activity, and like me, they want to see support available to vulnerable women where it is most needed.”

The Be Here for Me website highlights just some of the many stories of women who have been helped by people outside abortion clinics, and the stories of future women who could miss out on such support in the future. 

Widespread opposition

Opposition to censorship zones goes beyond pro-life advocates to a large part of society, which may not agree on the pro-life position on abortion, but oppose censorship zones because they infringe on free speech.

A number of prominent human rights groups and campaigners, all of whom support abortion, have also spoken out against the introduction of censorship zones.

This includes Peter Tatchell, the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship and the Freedom Association.

A Home Office spokesperson told the Independent: “There are already powers in place for police and local authorities to restrict harmful protests, and the previous home secretary asked the police to work closely with abortion services, to ensure that all those visiting these services are not subjected to harassment or intimation.”

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “As this vote was on a Ten Minute Rule Motion, it is very unlikely it will be given further time by the Government to be debated in Parliament. It is even less likely that it will become law.

“By attempting to restrict where women facing unplanned pregnancies can receive compassionate emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ lobby are removing real choice for women and revealing they’re really just pro-abortion.

“Today, many babies are alive because their mothers were able to get the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic.

“We would, therefore, encourage the Government not to give this Bill any more time.  In doing so they would send a clear signal that women should not be denied the choice of life-saving support for them and their baby.”

Division // Voting list

MPs who voted in favour of the motion 🙁

  • Diane Abbott (Labour – Hackney North and Stoke Newington)
  • Rushanara Ali (Labour – Bethnal Green and Bow)
  • Tahir Ali (Labour – Birmingham, Hall Green)
  • Mike Amesbury (Labour – Weaver Vale)
  • Tonia Antoniazzi (Labour – Gower)
  • Jonathan Ashworth (Labour – Leicester South)
  • Shaun Bailey (Conservative – West Bromwich West)
  • Duncan Baker (Conservative – North Norfolk)
  • Paula Barker (Labour – Liverpool, Wavertree)
  • Simon Baynes (Conservative – Clwyd South)
  • Apsana Begum (Labour – Poplar and Limehouse)
  • Aaron Bell (Conservative – Newcastle-under-Lyme)
  • Clive Betts (Labour – Sheffield South East)
  • Olivia Blake (Labour – Sheffield, Hallam)
  • Crispin Blunt (Conservative – Reigate)
  • Tracy Brabin (Labour – Batley and Spen)
  • Kevin Brennan (Labour – Cardiff West)
  • Sara Britcliffe (Conservative – Hyndburn)
  • Nicholas Brown (Labour – Newcastle upon Tyne East)
  • Lyn Brown (Labour – West Ham)
  • Felicity Buchan (Conservative – Kensington)
  • Karen Buck (Labour – Westminster North)
  • Richard Burgon (Labour – Leeds East)
  • Ian Byrne (Labour – Liverpool, West Derby)
  • Ruth Cadbury (Labour – Brentford and Isleworth)
  • Alan Campbell (Labour – Tynemouth)
  • Dan Carden (Labour – Liverpool, Walton)
  • Alistair Carmichael (Liberal Democrat – Orkney and Shetland)
  • Wendy Chamberlain (Liberal Democrat – North East Fife)
  • Sarah Champion (Labour – Rotherham)
  • Bambos Charalambous (Labour – Enfield, Southgate)
  • Feryal Clark (Labour – Enfield North)
  • Theo Clarke (Conservative – Stafford)
  • Chris Clarkson (Conservative – Heywood and Middleton)
  • Elliot Colburn (Conservative – Carshalton and Wallington)
  • Yvette Cooper (Labour – Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford)
  • Jeremy Corbyn (Labour – Islington North)
  • Neil Coyle (Labour – Bermondsey and Old Southwark)
  • Stella Creasy (Labour – Walthamstow)
  • Tracey Crouch (Conservative – Chatham and Aylesford)
  • John Cryer (Labour – Leyton and Wanstead)
  • Judith Cummins (Labour – Bradford South)
  • Alex Cunningham (Labour – Stockton North)
  • Janet Daby (Labour – Lewisham East)
  • Edward Davey (Liberal Democrat – Kingston and Surbiton)
  • Wayne David (Labour – Caerphilly)
  • James Davies (Conservative – Vale of Clwyd)
  • Geraint Davies (Labour – Swansea West)
  • Alex Davies-Jones (Labour – Pontypridd)
  • Dehenna Davison (Conservative – Bishop Auckland)
  • Thangam Debbonaire (Labour – Bristol West)
  • Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi (Labour – Slough)
  • Stephen Doughty (Labour – Cardiff South and Penarth)
  • Jack Dromey (Labour – Birmingham, Erdington)
  • Maria Eagle (Labour – Garston and Halewood)
  • Angela Eagle (Labour – Wallasey)
  • Mark Eastwood (Conservative – Dewsbury)
  • Clive Efford (Labour – Eltham)
  • Julie Elliott (Labour – Sunderland Central)
  • Chris Elmore (Labour – Ogmore)
  • Florence Eshalomi (Labour – Vauxhall)
  • Bill Esterson (Labour – Sefton Central)
  • Chris Evans (Labour – Islwyn)
  • Michael Fabricant (Conservative – Lichfield)
  • Stephen Farry (Alliance – North Down)
  • Simon Fell (Conservative – Barrow and Furness)
  • Colleen Fletcher (Labour – Coventry North East)
  • Yvonne Fovargue (Labour – Makerfield)
  • Vicky Foxcroft (Labour – Lewisham, Deptford)
  • Mary Kelly Foy (Labour – City of Durham)
  • George Freeman (Conservative – Mid Norfolk)
  • Gill Furniss (Labour – Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough)
  • Barry Gardiner (Labour – Brent North)
  • Nusrat Ghani (Conservative – Wealden)
  • Peter Gibson (Conservative – Darlington)
  • Preet Kaur Gill (Labour – Birmingham, Edgbaston)
  • Richard Graham (Conservative – Gloucester)
  • Kate Green (Labour – Stretford and Urmston)
  • Lilian Greenwood (Labour – Nottingham South)
  • Margaret Greenwood (Labour – Wirral West)
  • Nia Griffith (Labour – Llanelli)
  • Jonathan Gullis (Conservative – Stoke-on-Trent North)
  • Andrew Gwynne (Labour – Denton and Reddish)
  • Louise Haigh (Labour – Sheffield, Heeley)
  • Fabian Hamilton (Labour – Leeds North East)
  • Claire Hanna (Social Democratic & Labour Party – Belfast South)
  • Emma Hardy (Labour – Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle)
  • Carolyn Harris (Labour – Swansea East)
  • Helen Hayes (Labour – Dulwich and West Norwood)
  • Mark Hendrick (Labour – Preston)
  • Darren Henry (Conservative – Broxtowe)
  • Antony Higginbotham (Conservative – Burnley)
  • Mike Hill (Labour – Hartlepool)
  • Wera Hobhouse (Liberal Democrat – Bath)
  • Margaret Hodge (Labour – Barking)
  • Sharon Hodgson (Labour – Washington and Sunderland West)
  • Kate Hollern (Labour – Blackburn)
  • Paul Holmes (Conservative – Eastleigh)
  • Rachel Hopkins (Labour – Luton South)
  • George Howarth (Labour – Knowsley)
  • Rupa Huq (Labour – Ealing Central and Acton)
  • Christine Jardine (Liberal Democrat – Edinburgh West)
  • Dan Jarvis (Labour – Barnsley Central)
  • Bernard Jenkin (Conservative – Harwich and North Essex)
  • Mark Jenkinson (Conservative – Workington)
  • Diana Johnson (Labour – Kingston upon Hull North)
  • Kim Johnson (Labour – Liverpool, Riverside)
  • David Johnston (Conservative – Wantage)
  • Darren Jones (Labour – Bristol North West)
  • Gerald Jones (Labour – Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney)
  • Kevan Jones (Labour – North Durham)
  • Ruth Jones (Labour – Newport West)
  • Sarah Jones (Labour – Croydon Central)
  • Simon Jupp (Conservative – East Devon)
  • Barbara Keeley (Labour – Worsley and Eccles South)
  • Afzal Khan (Labour – Manchester, Gorton)
  • Stephen Kinnock (Labour – Aberavon)
  • Peter Kyle (Labour – Hove)
  • Ben Lake (Plaid Cymru – Ceredigion)
  • Robert Largan (Conservative – High Peak)
  • Emma Lewell-Buck (Labour – South Shields)
  • Tony Lloyd (Labour – Rochdale)
  • Tim Loughton (Conservative – East Worthing and Shoreham)
  • Holly Lynch (Labour – Halifax)
  • Justin Madders (Labour – Ellesmere Port and Neston)
  • Shabana Mahmood (Labour – Birmingham, Ladywood)
  • Seema Malhotra (Labour – Feltham and Heston)
  • Julie Marson (Conservative – Hertford and Stortford)
  • Christian Matheson (Labour – City of Chester)
  • Jerome Mayhew (Conservative – Broadland)
  • Steve McCabe (Labour – Birmingham, Selly Oak)
  • Kerry McCarthy (Labour – Bristol East)
  • Jason McCartney (Conservative – Colne Valley)
  • Andy McDonald (Labour – Middlesbrough)
  • John McDonnell (Labour – Hayes and Harlington)
  • Pat McFadden (Labour – Wolverhampton South East)
  • Ian Mearns (Labour – Gateshead)
  • Huw Merriman (Conservative – Bexhill and Battle)
  • Maria Miller (Conservative – Basingstoke)
  • Navendu Mishra (Labour – Stockport)
  • Gagan Mohindra (Conservative – South West Hertfordshire)
  • Robbie Moore (Conservative – Keighley)
  • Jessica Morden (Labour – Newport East)
  • Grahame Morris (Labour – Easington)
  • Kieran Mullan (Conservative – Crewe and Nantwich)
  • Holly Mumby-Croft (Conservative – Scunthorpe)
  • Ian Murray (Labour – Edinburgh South)
  • James Murray (Labour – Ealing North)
  • Lisa Nandy (Labour – Wigan)
  • Caroline Nokes (Conservative – Romsey and Southampton North)
  • Alex Norris (Labour – Nottingham North)
  • Matthew Offord (Conservative – Hendon)
  • Chi Onwurah (Labour – Newcastle upon Tyne Central)
  • Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour – Erith and Thamesmead)
  • Kate Osamor (Labour – Edmonton)
  • Taiwo Owatemi (Labour – Coventry North West)
  • Sarah Owen (Labour – Luton North)
  • Stephanie Peacock (Labour – Barnsley East)
  • Mike Penning (Conservative – Hemel Hempstead)
  • Matthew Pennycook (Labour – Greenwich and Woolwich)
  • John Penrose (Conservative – Weston-super-Mare)
  • Jess Phillips (Labour – Birmingham, Yardley)
  • Bridget Phillipson (Labour – Houghton and Sunderland South)
  • Luke Pollard (Labour – Plymouth, Sutton and Devonport)
  • Dan Poulter (Conservative – Central Suffolk and North Ipswich)
  • Lucy Powell (Labour – Manchester Central)
  • Yasmin Qureshi (Labour – Bolton South East)
  • Tom Randall (Conservative – Gedling)
  • Steve Reed (Labour – Croydon North)
  • Christina Rees (Labour – Neath)
  • Ellie Reeves (Labour – Lewisham West and Penge)
  • Bell Ribeiro-Addy (Labour – Streatham)
  • Nicola Richards (Conservative – West Bromwich East)
  • Angela Richardson (Conservative – Guildford)
  • Matt Rodda (Labour – Reading East)
  • Dean Russell (Conservative – Watford)
  • Liz Saville Roberts (Plaid Cymru – Dwyfor Meirionnydd)
  • Selaine Saxby (Conservative – North Devon)
  • Naz Shah (Labour – Bradford West)
  • Virendra Sharma (Labour – Ealing, Southall)
  • Barry Sheerman (Labour – Huddersfield)
  • David Simmonds (Conservative – Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner)
  • Andy Slaughter (Labour – Hammersmith)
  • Cat Smith (Labour – Lancaster and Fleetwood)
  • Nick Smith (Labour – Blaenau Gwent)
  • Karin Smyth (Labour – Bristol South)
  • Alex Sobel (Labour – Leeds North West)
  • John Spellar (Labour – Warley)
  • Ben Spencer (Conservative – Runnymede and Weybridge)
  • Keir Starmer (Labour – Holborn and St Pancras)
  • Jo Stevens (Labour – Cardiff Central)
  • Wes Streeting (Labour – Ilford North)
  • Graham Stringer (Labour – Blackley and Broughton)
  • Julian Sturdy (Conservative – York Outer)
  • Zarah Sultana (Labour – Coventry South)
  • James Sunderland (Conservative – Bracknell)
  • Sam Tarry (Labour – Ilford South)
  • Nick Thomas-Symonds (Labour – Torfaen)
  • Jon Trickett (Labour – Hemsworth)
  • Karl Turner (Labour – Kingston upon Hull East)
  • Liz Twist (Labour – Blaydon)
  • Valerie Vaz (Labour – Walsall South)
  • Christian Wakeford (Conservative – Bury South)
  • Giles Watling (Conservative – Clacton)
  • Catherine West (Labour – Hornsey and Wood Green)
  • Matt Western (Labour – Warwick and Leamington)
  • Alan Whitehead (Labour – Southampton, Test)
  • Mick Whitley (Labour – Birkenhead)
  • Nadia Whittome (Labour – Nottingham East)
  • Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru – Arfon)
  • William Wragg (Conservative – Hazel Grove)
  • Mohammad Yasin (Labour – Bedford)
  • Daniel Zeichner (Labour – Cambridge)

MPs who voted against the motion 🙂

  • David Amess (Conservative – Southend West)
  • Lee Anderson (Conservative – Ashfield)
  • Stuart Anderson (Conservative – Wolverhampton South West)
  • Gareth Bacon (Conservative – Orpington)
  • Scott Benton (Conservative – Blackpool South)
  • Bob Blackman (Conservative – Harrow East)
  • Fiona Bruce (Conservative – Congleton)
  • Lisa Cameron (Scottish National Party – East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow)
  • Andy Carter (Conservative – Warrington South)
  • Miriam Cates (Conservative – Penistone and Stocksbridge)
  • Brendan Clarke-Smith (Conservative – Bassetlaw)
  • Rosie Cooper (Labour – West Lancashire)
  • James Daly (Conservative – Bury North)
  • Gareth Davies (Conservative – Grantham and Stamford)
  • Jeffrey M Donaldson (Democratic Unionist Party – Lagan Valley)
  • Iain Duncan Smith (Conservative – Chingford and Woodford Green)
  • Katherine Fletcher (Conservative – South Ribble)
  • Nick Fletcher (Conservative – Don Valley)
  • Liam Fox (Conservative – North Somerset)
  • Richard Fuller (Conservative – North East Bedfordshire)
  • Robert Goodwill (Conservative – Scarborough and Whitby)
  • Kate Griffiths (Conservative – Burton)
  • Sally-Ann Hart (Conservative – Hastings and Rye)
  • Gordon Henderson (Conservative – Sittingbourne and Sheppey)
  • Philip Hollobone (Conservative – Kettering)
  • Tom Hunt (Conservative – Ipswich)
  • Daniel Kawczynski (Conservative – Shrewsbury and Atcham)
  • Danny Kruger (Conservative – Devizes)
  • Chris Loder (Conservative – West Dorset)
  • Marco Longhi (Conservative – Dudley North)
  • Karl McCartney (Conservative – Lincoln)
  • Mark Menzies (Conservative – Fylde)
  • Robin Millar (Conservative – Aberconwy)
  • Lia Nici (Conservative – Great Grimsby)
  • Ian Paisley (Democratic Unionist Party – North Antrim)
  • Mark Pawsey (Conservative – Rugby)
  • John Redwood (Conservative – Wokingham)
  • Mary Robinson (Conservative – Cheadle)
  • Gary Sambrook (Conservative – Birmingham, Northfield)
  • Andrew Selous (Conservative – South West Bedfordshire)
  • Greg Smith (Conservative – Buckingham)
  • Alexander Stafford (Conservative – Rother Valley)
  • Jane Stevenson (Conservative – Wolverhampton North East)
  • Desmond Swayne (Conservative – New Forest West)
  • Martin Vickers (Conservative – Cleethorpes)
  • Craig Whittaker (Conservative – Calder Valley)
  • Jeremy Wright (Conservative – Kenilworth and Southam)

Bill introduced to ban pro-life support outside abortion clinics

Women facing unplanned pregnancies could be denied emotional and practical support outside abortion clinics under a new Ten Minute Rule Bill being brought forward this week.

On Wednesday 24 June, Labour MP Dr Rupa Huq will introduce the Demonstrations (Abortion Clinics) Ten Minute Rule Bill calling for legislation “to restrict demonstrations in the vicinity of abortion clinics; and for connected purposes.”

While Ten Minute Rule Bills rarely become law, the abortion lobby are likely to call for a vote on Wednesday.

Pro-abortion MPs could then attempt to bring forward a censorship zone amendment to the Domestic Abuse Bill, during the Bill’s Report Stage, claiming there is support to do so should they win the vote on the Ten Minute Rule Bill. 

If introduced, censorship zones would effectively ban volunteers from peacefully praying and offering support to women entering abortion clinics across England and Wales.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “By attempting to restrict where women facing unplanned pregnancies can receive compassionate emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ lobby are removing real choice for women and revealing they’re really just pro-abortion.

“Today, many babies are alive because their mothers were able to get the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic.

“We would, therefore, urge MPs to vote against this motion and send a clear signal that women should not be denied the choice of life-saving support for them and their baby.”

Home Office review

Due to additional powers handed over to councils in 2014 by the former Prime Minister Theresa May, a number of councils have already introduced localised censorship zones. 

Ealing council, in Dr Huq’s constituency, is one such council along with Richmond. In addition, Manchester City Council has consulted its residents on the matter, while seven other councils are reported to be looking into the issue. 

In 2017, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd launched a review into the scale and nature of pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics to establish if the Government would recommend the introduction of censorship zones. 

In the investigation continued by the succeeding Home Secretary Sajid Javid, over 2,500 responded to a call for evidence, including abortion service providers, abortion service clients, those engaging in anti-abortion demonstrations, police forces and local authorities.

In 2018, Sajid Javid announced that the Home Office did not find adequate reason to introduce censorship zones, stating that: “…introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature. In making my decision, I am also aware that legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others.”

Widespread opposition

Opposition to censorship zones goes beyond pro-life advocates to a large part of society, which may not agree on the pro-life position on abortion, but oppose censorship zones because they infringe on free speech.

A number of prominent human rights groups and campaigners, all of whom support abortion, have also spoken out against the introduction of censorship zones. This includes Peter Tatchell, the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship and the Freedom Association.

Dr Huq has been a longtime and proud supporter of abortion provider BPAS’ ‘Back Off’ campaign which calls for nationwide ‘criminalised free speech zones’ which ban peaceful pro-life activity outside abortion clinics.

Abortion lobby’s longterm plan to limit choice

In a 2017 opinion piece for the Guardian, the Labour MP revealed “ideas have been percolating” on how to go about restricting pro-life demonstrations since January 2017. 

Over three years later, it appears the abortion lobby are now testing whether they have the momentum to limit women’s choice and the support offered to them. 

It follows “tragic” votes approving the UK Government’s imposition of an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland in the House of Commons and House of Lords last week. 

The Be Here for Me website highlights just some of the many stories of women who have been helped by people outside abortion clinics, and the stories of future women who could miss out on such support in the future. 

One mother who who kept her daughter as a result of the pro-life support she receieved outside an abortion clinic, in Ealing, will soon challenge the use of ‘criminalised free speech zones’ at the European Court of Human Rights.

Alina Dulgheriu launched the legal challenge because she wants other potential mothers to receive the same practical and emotional support she was offered – support which led to her keeping her daughter, Sarah.

Explaining why she’s taking the case forward, Alina said:

“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 going to appeal this decision to ensure that women do not have this vital support option removed.

“I will continue to stand up for the women whose voices have been sidelined throughout this process and for women who need life-saving support today but cannot get it. 

“Ealing Council could have taken action in a way that would have protected women and safeguarded the essential help offered at the gate. Instead, they criminalised charity and attempted to remove dedicated and caring individuals from public space without justification.

“It is very clear that many are opposed to Ealing’s ban on peaceful and charitable activity, and like me, they want to see support available to vulnerable women where it is most needed.”

Irish coalition plan to ban pro-life support outside abortion clinics

A proposed five-year plan for Ireland will establish “exclusion zones” around all medical facilities where abortions take place or are facilitated, including hospitals and GP clinics.

These “exclusion zones” will criminalise free speech and ban individuals from offering emotional and practical support to women in crisis and unexpected pregnancies.

The proposed 126-page Programme for Government was agreed upon this week by Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, and Green party leaders and will now pass to internal ratification by party members.

If approved, the five-year plan will see the three parties enter into a coalition government in Dublin with the intention of setting up the criminalised free speech zones.

Leo Varadkar, who will be part of that coalition and take turns in leading it, has previously indicated that criminalised free speech zones could be unconstitutional.

In April last year, Leo Varadkar told parliamentarians in the Dáil: “We are running into real difficulties around restricting peaceful protest and restricting free speech.” 

He conceded that in placing a ban on peaceful protest, “we do enter a difficult space in a democracy when you decide that certain opinions can’t be held, certain types of protests can’t happen. In a democracy, if you’re going to restrict free speech and if you’re going to restrict the right to protest, you need to be on very solid ground.”

Last September, Garda Commissioner Drew Harris told the Minister for Health that there was no evidence to suggest that there is threatening, abusive or insulting behaviour directed towards persons utilising abortion services. 

“I re-confirm my views expressed at our recent meeting that protests to date at such centres have not contravened the law and are peaceful”, he said.

In addition to “exclusion zones” the Programme for Government notes that a review of the abortion legislation is due in 2021.

While it does not give details of what changes the Government plan on making, during coalition negotiations the Green party asked for the removal of the three-day waiting period before a woman obtains an abortion.

Eilís Mulroy of the Pro Life Campaign told Laois Nationalist: “It is a regressive move for Fianna Fáil and the Green Party negotiating teams to have joined Fine Gael in supporting the introduction of censorship zones which amount to such an obvious breach of civil liberties. These exclusion zones which deny peaceful protest and free speech exist in no other part of Europe.

“In recent correspondence to the Minister for Health, the Garda Commissioner described the introduction of such zones as unwarranted. If introduced, they would selectively single out one group of people in society, namely members of the pro-life movement. Those who have been pushing for exclusion zones know full well that pro-life supporters are respectful and dignified when engaging in street outreach, and are there to offer positive support to women.”

Ms Mulroy said: “The absence of meaningful supports and the lack of any reference to alternatives to abortion within the draft Programme for Government is also profoundly disappointing. The Programme for Government was an opportunity for this potential new administration to demonstrate even a remote interest in offering women genuine and meaningful alternatives to abortion. Instead they chose to completely bypass this opportunity and to focus their attention instead on sticking to a policy of exclusion and the silencing of pro-life voices that has already been assessed as completely unnecessary and legally redundant.

“As well as opposing the introduction of censorship zones, we will continue to work for proper supports for women facing an unplanned pregnancy and draw the public’s attention to the refusal of many within the main political parties to commit to helping those who are conflicted about having an abortion and would benefit hugely if adequate supports were in place.”

Legal challenge

The use of criminalised free speech zones around abortion clinics is going to be be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights by a mother who kept her daughter after receiving pro-life help the zones seek to criminalise.

Alina Dulgheriu launched the legal challenge because she wants other potential mothers to receive the same practical and emotional support she was offered – support which led to her keeping her daughter, Sarah.

The Be Here for Me website tells just some of the many stories of women who have been helped by people outside abortion clinics.

Alina Dulgheriu, who has brought legal action against Ealing Council said:

“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 going to appeal this decision to ensure that women do not have this vital support option removed.

“I will continue to stand up for the women whose voices have been sidelined throughout this process and for women who need life-saving support today but cannot get it. 

“Ealing Council could have taken action in a way that would have protected women and safeguarded the essential help offered at the gate. Instead, they criminalised charity and attempted to remove dedicated and caring individuals from public space without justification.

“It is very clear that many are opposed to Ealing’s ban on peaceful and charitable activity, and like me, they want to see support available to vulnerable women where it is most needed. 

“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. I refuse to accept that women should be denied the opportunity to receive help where they want to keep their child.”

Elizabeth Howard, Be Here For Me spokesperson said: 

Eight years ago, Alina Dulgheriu found herself jobless, homeless and alone after an unplanned pregnancy. She’d been fired from her job as a live-in nanny and abandoned by her boyfriend. 

“She went to Marie Stopes to get advice on her options, but all they could offer her was an abortion. She didn’t want that but didn’t know where to turn.

“Her life was changed when she met a pro-life volunteer at the gates of the abortion centre who told her that she did have options, that there was help available, and that she could keep her baby if she wanted.

“She accepted the offer of help and her daughter Sarah was born. She is now seven years old, a beautiful, lively and beloved child.

“Ealing Council has banned pro-lifers from helping women like Alina. Alina has challenged their decision in court, but three times the courts have ignored her story.

“In five years of the pro-life vigil’s work in Ealing, more than 500 women accepted an offer of help and chose to keep their baby rather than have an abortion. These women have tried again and again to have their voices heard, but they are ignored.”

Mother to take major pro-life case to European Court of Human Rights

The use of criminalised free speech zones (‘buffer zones’) around abortion clinics will be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR), by a mother who received pro-life help the zones criminalise.

Earlier this year, the UK Supreme Court refused to hear the legal challenge against Ealing Council’s Public Space Protection Order which criminalises offering emotional and practical support outside the Marie Stopes International abortion clinic in West London.

Alina Dulgheriu had wanted to challenge the criminalised free speech zone after receiving support from pro-life campaigners outside an abortion clinic several years ago – support which led to her keeping her unborn baby, Sarah.  

Alina launched a legal fight against the Council’s Public Space Protection Order in April 2018 because she wants other potential mothers to receive the same help she was offered, and because it prevents the help some women need to escape an unwanted or coerced abortion.

The High Court accepted that her rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly had been infringed, but ultimately upheld Ealing’s criminalised free speech zone.

The Court of Appeal had granted permission for the challenge to be appealed, but also sided with Ealing Council in a ruling last year.

The UK Supreme Court’s refusal to hear Alina’s case means her only legal option is to take her case to the ECHR.

Today, it was announced, Alina’s legal team are working on her application to the European Court of Human Rights, which marks the final court of appeal for her case. ECHR judgements affect around 800 million people across Europe, including the United Kingdom. 

Before it had been displaced by the criminalised free speech zone, the pro-life demonstration outside the MSI abortion clinic in Ealing had seen more than 500 women accept an offer of help which led to them choosing to keep their baby rather than have an abortion.

Additionally, in 2017, the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee heard that there was no probative evidence to suggest women were being harassed outside abortion facilities, whether in Ealing, Portsmouth, Birmingham, or elsewhere in the country.

In contrast, the Be Here for Me website tells just some of the many stories of women who have been helped by people outside abortion clinics – including some of mothers from Ealing.

In a similar case, a PSPO passed by Richmond Council has been challenged by Justyna Pasek, who has personally supported women visiting the abortion clinic in Richmond for over five years.

Last year, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan reiterated his support for criminalised free speech zones. In 2018, he claimed that those living in London would be “deeply disappointed” over the then Home Secretary’s decision not to roll out ‘buffer zones’ nationwide.

Meanwhile the former Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, chose not to introduce nationwide criminalised free speech zones. He said that such a move would not be proportionate in light of the ‘passive’ nature of activities outside of abortion clinics, as well as the existing powers of local councils and police.

Prominent human rights campaigners, including those who would describe themselves as pro-abortion and ‘pro-choice’, seem to agree. A number of them have expressed their concerns about the ease with which the use of criminalised free speech zones allow councils to override basic human rights law. 

Alina’s case can continue because of the many donors who have contributed over £65,000 to her legal fund

Alina Dulgheriu, who has brought legal action against Ealing Council said:

“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 going to appeal this decision to ensure that women do not have this vital support option removed.

“I will continue to stand up for the women whose voices have been sidelined throughout this process and for women who need life-saving support today but cannot get it. 

“Ealing Council could have taken action in a way that would have protected women and safeguarded the essential help offered at the gate. Instead, they criminalised charity and attempted to remove dedicated and caring individuals from public space without justification.

“It is very clear that many are opposed to Ealing’s ban on peaceful and charitable activity, and like me, they want to see support available to vulnerable women where it is most needed. 

“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. I refuse to accept that women should be denied the opportunity to receive help where they want to keep their child.”

Elizabeth Howard, Be Here For Me spokesperson said: 

Eight years ago, Alina Dulgheriu found herself jobless, homeless and alone after an unplanned pregnancy. She’d been fired from her job as a live-in nanny and abandoned by her boyfriend. 

“She went to Marie Stopes to get advice on her options, but all they could offer her was an abortion. She didn’t want that but didn’t know where to turn.

“Her life was changed when she met a pro-life volunteer at the gates of the abortion centre who told her that she did have options, that there was help available, and that she could keep her baby if she wanted.

“She accepted the offer of help and her daughter Sarah was born. She is now seven years old, a beautiful, lively and beloved child.

“Ealing Council has banned pro-lifers from helping women like Alina. Alina has challenged their decision in court, but three times the courts have ignored her story.

“In five years of the pro-life vigil’s work in Ealing, more than 500 women accepted an offer of help and chose to keep their baby rather than have an abortion. These women have tried again and again to have their voices heard, but they are ignored.”

Clare Mulvany, Be Here For Me spokesperson said: 

“The mothers of Be Here for Me are angry that their own experiences, and the help they have sought to pass on to others in their shoes, have been ignored and denied. 

We share their anger and deep resolve. 

“No one can claim to uphold a right to choose whilst supporting the stripping away of all but one choice. 

“These women and their powerful stories must be made more visible. 

“Alina is resolute.

“We understand that she intends to appeal and she has our full support in this”.