London Assembly passes anti-free speech buffer zones motion
21 December 2017
Presenting SPUC's petition at City Hall.
Despite passionate opposition from some members.
The London Assembly has today passed a motion attacking peaceful pro-life vigils in front of abortion clinics. The motion, proposed by Labour member Fiona Twycross, "asks the Mayor to clarify the powers available to the MPS to arrest and prosecute anti-choice campaigners who resort to obstruction, intimidation and harassment, so that clinics and patients have the confidence to report it. This would send a clear message that threatening behaviour will not be tolerated on the streets of London."
Before the debate, SPUC presented a petition calling on the Assembly to stand up for freedom of speech, and allow vulnerable women to continue to receive life-saving support. The petition received 1300 in the space of a week.
In her speech, Ms Twycross insisted the motion was "not about preventing free speech, as correspondents to Assembly Members have suggested." She also said that people who wrote in to point out that the "protests" are silent vigils were "being disingenuous" and "it's simply not the case - it is targeted harassment of a minority group."
Have you met these mothers?
The motion was strongly opposed by several AMs, including by UKIP member David Kurten. In a powerful intervention, he recounted how he had been to visit the Good Counsel Network and had meet mothers who had been helped, and their children whose lives had been saved. He challenged members: "Before you vote for this, I'd ask you - have you been to meet them? Have you gone to talk to any of the mothers who've been helped by them? Have you met their children, who are still alive today, because there are mothers going in there who think that they don't have any choice, but have been told that you can get help, if you don't want to have an abortion, there are people there who can support you and help you?"
Conservative member Andrew Boff also spoke out, saying that from conception, every person has rights, and that it is vital for women contemplating abortion to have access to all options, in order to make a fully informed decision. "I'm resistant to the motion referring to these demonstrators as being 'anti-choice' - they, I would argue, are giving the mothers more choices, and in fact, they are giving choices to people who are yet to see the light of day."
"There is no hate speech there, only love speech," he concluded. "And for that, we want to ban them. Chair, I want no part in removing options that could lead to a human life being saved. I'm afraid I will not vote to ban love."
Another Conservative member, Steve O'Connell, said that he had no settled views on abortion, but that he considered the motion illiberal - "we're trying to ban a protest because we disagree with the ethos of the protesters, and that is fundamentally wrong."
The motion passed by 12 votes to 4.