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.”

Pro-life Students’ Union president forced to delete tweet calling for fewer abortions

A pro-life student has been forced to delete a tweet calling for a reduction in the number of abortions and to remove his role as President of the Students’ Union from his social media profile.

Gabriel Baraldi, a student at Bournemouth & Poole College, published a tweet expressing the view that “abortions should be reduced to when the woman’s life is at risk only”.

Following its publication, the tweet attracted a number of derogatory and vitriolic responses from those who disagreed, including one which said Gabriel’s mother should have aborted him.

Complaints were then made to Bournemouth & Poole College who passed them on to the Executive Committee of the Students’ Union, which is run by students.

The Executive Committee considered the tweet offensive and, according to Archbishop Cranmer, asked Gabriel to delete it and remove his role as President of the Students’ Union from his Twitter bio – a position he was democratically elected to by fellow members of the Students’ Union. 

Responding to the censorship, Gabriel said: “I hope people are happy they got to shut down yet another debate and point of discussion.”

“You haven’t won the debate, you’ve simply suppressed it,” he added.

Dr Rakib Ehsan, a columnist at Spiked Online which used to rank universities on free speech, picked up on this tweet: “Irrespective of your thoughts on Gabriel’s comment, worth having a look at the responses.

“Many left-wing students/activists are unable to provide a coherent opposing view. Shutdown culture and campus identity politics will create a huge wave of low-grade degree holders.”

While this incident may seem small, it is just the latest example of pro-life speech being censored in education settings across the UK.

In what is believed to be the first case of its kind, Julia Rynkiewicz was forced to suspend her studies at Nottingham University over her pro-life views.

The final year midwifery student was suspended from her course and became the subject of an almost four-monthlong investigation.

Additionally, she faced expulsion from her degree after lecturers raised concerns about her involvement with the Nottingham Students for Life (NSFL) society.

Julia believes she was unfairly targeted over her views and has asked Nottingham University to make a formal apology. If they fail to do so, she could carry her case through to the ombudsman and then on to court.

Last year, Strathclyde Students for Life in Glasgow were forced to remove their stall from a university freshers’ fair following complaints from the Students’ Union who claimed the pro-life group breached their safe-space policies.

In what appears to becoming a pattern at universities across the UK, many pro-life groups have been hindered in their ability to speak freely and enjoy the same benefits as other student societies.

Student representative bodies at Aberdeen University, Glasgow University, Nottingham University, and at Strathclyde University have all had to reverse their decisions to refuse affiliation to pro-life groups after the groups raised the prospect of legal proceedings.

In 2018, the Joint Committee on Human Rights released a report on Freedom of Speech in Universities, which criticised growing restrictions on free speech and the new phenomenon of ‘no-platforming’ policies on UK campuses and the exclusion of pro-life views.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said:

“Universities were once considered a key forum in which ideas and opinions could be discussed and argued, however, more and more we are seeing attempts to censor the pro-life view from being discussed on campus.

“It’s sad to see the incredible amount of vitriol directed at Gabriel for expressing a view shared by millions of other people his age. The behaviour of both individual students and the Students’ Union Executive Committee sets a dangerous precedent for freedom of speech and expression more generally.”

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”.

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

The use of criminalised free speech zones (‘buffer zones’) around abortion clinics could be challenged at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR).

It comes after 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 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.

The mother 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.

It means Alina’s only legal option now is to challenge the council at the European Court of Human Rights – something she and her legal team are now considering.

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.

Earlier this 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. 

Reacting to the decision, Alina Dulgheriu said:

“I am devastated to hear that the Supreme Court has decided not to consider my appeal. My little girl is here today because of the practical and emotional support that I was offered outside a Marie Stopes centre, and I brought the appeal to ensure that other women did not have this vital support option removed.

“It is unthinkable that any council would criminalise an offer of help to a woman who might want to keep her child. Ealing Council could have taken action in a way that would have safeguarded the essential help offered at the gate. Instead, they made charity a criminal offence and removed dedicated and caring individuals from public space without justification.

“It is a travesty of justice to see the courts ignoring the impact this decision will have on vulnerable women who are in desperate need of a little help and support. The voices of these women have been sidelined throughout this process, even though they will be the ones most deeply affected by the removal of this life-changing support.

“I am deeply grateful to all those who have supported me in bringing the legal challenge – without their incredible generosity this appeal would not have been possible. I am discussing my position with my legal team and will be considering all options, including an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.”

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 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 twice the court have ignored her story.

“In five years of the pro-life vigil’s work in Ealing, hundreds of women have 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.

“It is disgraceful that in both court judgments, there is literally not a single sentence, not a single word, dedicated to the women who have been helped by the vigil, who are grateful for the vigil, and who have given the other side of the story.

“The Supreme Court had an opportunity to rectify this deep miscarriage of justice, but has now declined to do so.

“This is a very sad day for vulnerable women.”