MP plans to exploit domestic abuse bill to ban pro-life vigils
27 September 2017
She also accused pavement counsellors of "weaponising rosaries".
Rupa Huq, the MP for Ealing Central and Acton, told a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference that she is planning to table an amendment to new domestic violence legislation which would create "buffer zones" around abortion clinics. The abortion lobby has long been campaigning to prevent pro-life groups offering help to women outside clinics.
Groups such as the Good Counsel Network have held peaceful vigils outside the Marie Stopes Centre in Ealing for about twenty years, where people pray and offer support to women who want to keep their babies. In recent years, a group called "Sister Supporter" have been holding counter-vigils, and have launched a petition calling on the council to "protect the space around the clinic".
Rupa told Labour conference delegates at a fringe event examining safety for women and girls: "We have a Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing and for as long as I can remember, there has been a constant phoney vigil outside the clinic, with people stopping women going into the clinic to access services," she said.
"So we have had a counter protest, called Sister Support recently, and now there is a kind of stand-off on the pavement. I want to table an amendment to the domestic violence bill - one of the few things that survived and made it into the Queen’s Speech - to create a safe zone, around these clinics, because the pavement should be a safe space."
She described people taking part in the vigil as protesters "weaponising rosaries".
Despite the accusations of harassment and of stopping people accessing the clinic, it is not thought that anyone has ever been arrested for harassment at the clinic. Clare McCullough of The Good Counsel Network said in response to the Sister Supporter petition: "We offer alternatives and support to the many women we meet outside Marie Stopes who are under pressure to abort. Hundreds of women accept our support. We provide a range of support to women including moral support, housing, financial assistance, a safe place to hide, domestic violence solutions, obtaining legal and medical advice.
"Sister Support do their best to obstruct women in hearing about our support, shouting at them not to take our leaflets and sometimes snatching the leaflets out of their hands. They offer no support or help to these women except to rush them into Marie Stopes as fast as possible.
"Marie Stopes also take the leaflets from women entering their centre and sometimes tell them they are not allowed to enter with our leaflets. Though they may disagree with our leaflets a substantial part of the leaflet is simply offering help, support, babysitting etc to women under pressure. How is taking these leaflets facilitating choice? We do not intimidate women. If we did, no-one would take our leaflets or our help."
Cynical and inappropriate
Alithea Williams of SPUC described Ms Ruq's announcement as a "cynical publicity stunt". "The bill Rupa Huq is referring to hasn't even been published in draft, so it looks like she was just seizing an opportunity to push the abortion agenda. Nonetheless, exploiting a bill on domestic violence to try and stop women (some of whom will themselves be victims of abuse) even being offered help for themselves and their babies is completely inappropriate. Is she really equating people who hit their partners with praying peacefully and offering leaflets? This isn't about protecting women - if there was any harassment by pro-lifers happening outside clinics, they would be arrested under existing legislation. Moves like this simply seek to shut down any opposition to abortion."
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