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Are We Free To Speak?

Author: Elizabeth Howard

Picture: Flickr

Are We Free To Speak?

Hearts and minds need to be changed in the buffer zone debate in Ealing, says pro-life witness Elizabeth Howard. 

Are we free to speak? In Ealing, where I live, the answer is now ‘not really’.

In April 2018, Ealing councillors agreed to use a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to implement a so-called “safe zone” (better described as a censorship zone) outside the Marie Stopes facility in Ealing.

There has been a peaceful pro-life witness outside this centre for over twenty years; but in 2015, a group called Sister Supporter started a “counter vigil”, opposing those quietly praying there and attempting to block pavement counsellors from offering women an alternative to abortion.

Jesus calls us to step out and trust Him in stormy waters: “Put out into the deep” (Luke 5:4) For pro-life witnesses in Ealing and beyond, these times certainly feel stormy.

Pro-Life Vigil Banned

Sister Supporter accused pro-lifers of a variety of despicable behaviour, including shouting at women, throwing holy water on them and displaying graphic and upsetting imagery. There is no video evidence of any such deplorable actions by pro-lifers, despite 24-hour CCTV outside the Marie Stopes centre.

Sister Supporter, enthusiastically supported by local MP Rupa Huq and council leader, Julian Bell, started a petition to have the pro-life vigil banned. Unsurprisingly, given the gravity of their allegations, they gained much local support.

The petition was presented to the council in October. The meeting resembled a show trial rather than anything to do with democracy. Those accused of heinous behaviour had no opportunity to either defend themselves or tell their story.

A Blessed Witness

God has blessed our witness: over the last five years, more than 500 women have accepted help from the pro-life vigil in Ealing. These women did not feel intimidated or threatened; and many have expressed huge gratitude for the help and support they received.

Some have come together to oppose the censorship zone in a group called Be Here For Me. Many are among the most vulnerable in society. Literally the only option they were offered was the abortion they did not want.

Final Decision?

The council’s cabinet announced its final decision in April.

In a rally outside Ealing Town Hall, several women (accompanied by their children) gave their account of the help they received. It was hard to hear them, so loud were the shouts from Sister Supporter of "Not your body! Not your choice!" 

Now it is illegal to pray within a 100-metre exclusion zone round the clinic, to offer help to someone considering abortion, and to express any opinion about abortion in this area.

Worst of all, there is no indication that the council has allowed limited free speech within a small “designated area” 100 metres away from the Marie Stopes clinic.

Take Heart

Two women have petitioned the High Court for Ealing Council’s decision to be reversed. One is a mother who has been helped to keep her daughter; the other is a pro-life counsellor who has requested anonymity for her own safety.

They hope and expect that the High Court will strike down the PSPO with its highly illiberal attack on free speech, freedom of association, and freedom of religion.

As Christians, we must hope likewise. Jesus encourages us: “In the world, you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33). We must believe there will be a true resurrection in our pro-life witness.

Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will change hearts and minds and bring an end to the scourge of abortion and the introduction of buffer zones.

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