At a meeting on April 10th 2018, Ealing Council’s cabinet members have decided to implement a buffer zone around their local abortion clinic, preventing protesters from acting in the vicinity of the building. This is a violation of free speech that must be opposed on its’ own merit and for the precedent it sets. It is also – far from the “symbolic moment for women’s rights” that it is being billed as – a condescending virtue-signal inferring female weakness and depriving women of their right to be exposed to challenging ideas.
Harassment is already illegal – and includes any repeated behaviour that could cause “alarm or distress” to any reasonable person, the term can include multiple defendants and multiple victims or groups (‘collective’ harassment). What the Good Counsel Network (GCN) has been reported as doing includes: handing women teddy bears, calling them ‘mum’ and distributing pink and blue rosaries and leaflets. Their website advertises ‘Peaceful Prayer Vigils’ which require participants to sign a ‘statement of peace’ stating that “they will behave in a non aggressive and non violent manner outside the abortion centres”. 83% of respondents to the councils’ consultation recorded seeing explicit imagery, however, a search of the GCN on Google returns nothing more ‘explicit’ than a few images of foetuses in the womb, which I would regard as beautiful, amazing, and well within the bounds of decency. So, despite, references to harassment in the press surrounding this decision, no such thing has taken place – the (over) reaction is simply an infringement on free speech. Furthermore, because no harassment has taken place; Ealing Council has resorted to implementing a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPOs) which is a power they should not have. PSPOs were brought in four years ago as part of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and vastly empowered local councils to restrict the freedoms of people in their constituencies. Previously, such action would have had to be signed off by the Secretary of State but now a majority in a council cabinet is all that is required. This is the first time a PSPO has been used to create a buffer zone around an abortion clinic (although a number of other councils have considered or are considering the measure) but they have previously been used to ban foul language, busking and rough sleeping… When draconian powers such as the ability to write PSPOs are brought in; they are consistently used in authoritarian and despicable ways and every right-minded person should be writing to their MP’s asking them to work to have this law repealed in its entirety. Every time a PSPO is passed it sets a dangerous precedent for liberty in the U.K., which is looking more and more like a closing-down society every day.
Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director has called the result a “landmark decision for women”. It’s a landmark of a sort. It’s a landmark in the infantilization of women, on a par with misogyny being made a hate crime in Nottingham – it treats women as fragile and delicate quasi-children in need of protection from words they might find uncomfortable. It betrays a distinct lack of respect for women, a bigotry of low expectation. Most women who have made the monumental decision to abort a baby should be prepared to hear pro-life arguments from adherents. The most vulnerable could easily be protected with a phone call from the clinic to prepare them and make alternative arrangements if necessary (do these establishments not have back doors? If not, NHS hospitals do the procedure and are not subject to pro-life protests). It’s actually a disservice to women to prevent them from hearing the pro-life perspective prior to their abortions. Local councils might be able to stop them being exposed to the opinions directly before their procedure but they have no control over what a woman is exposed to later, in other locations, possibly online… And what if, once she does hear, she changes her mind about whether her abortion was the right thing to do? According to Clare McCullogh of the GCN, more than 500 women have changed their minds due to the efforts of their group. And undoubtedly, they bear eternal gratitude to them.
Despite being roundly hailed by collectivist-leftists, politicians and feminists as “something to celebrate”; the implementation of Britain’s first abortion clinic-buffer zone is a concerning development. It’s yet another example of how tenuous our right to free speech has become in the UK, only weeks after a man was convicted for a stupid joke and several journalists were prevented from entering our country or were arrested at the border for being critical of Islam. It is not relevant who is right and who is wrong, or who has the better taste. For people “to refuse a hearing to an opinion, because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility.” (John Stuart Mill) and it is a dangerous assumption because censorship, by its’ nature, creeps and devours more and more territory. “If you believe in freedom of speech, you believe in freedom of speech for views you don’t like. Goebbels was in favour of freedom of speech for views he liked. So was Stalin.” (Noam Chomsky). Choose your company wisely.