Ealing Council enacts PSPO to ban pro-life vigils
11 April 2018
Outside Ealing Town Hall, Betty tells the story of how pro-life counsellors gave her the help she needed to keep her son, who is now nine.
Ignoring the testimonies of women.
Ealing Council yesterday voted to introduce a Public Space Protection Zone (PSPO) to ban pro-life vigils outside the Marie Stopes abortion centre on Mattock Lane. Councillors voted unanimously to implement the controversial legal mechanism to stop groups like the Good Council Network praying and offering help to women outside the clinic. Vigils have been taking place without incident in Ealing for 23 years.
Be here for me
Both sides of the debate rallied outside Ealing Town Hall ahead of the Council meeting. Mothers who had been helped by the Good Counsel Network to keep their babies gave their testimonies as part of the Be Here For Me campaign, while the Sister Supporter group attempted to drown them out with loud chanting.
One of the mothers, Alina Dulgheriu, told of how a pavement counsellor handed her a leaflet offering help as she walked into the Marie Stopes clinic. She "went with her and got all the help I need and thanks to them I have my child".
The 34-year-old said she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation.
Speaking of her six-year-old daughter, she said: "She's my pride, she's my strength, without her I would not be the person I am today."
Ms Dulgheriu said the safe zone would "remove life-saving help when it's most needed".
"I was given a real choice by the woman at the gate," she added.
A stitch up?
Alina also gave her testimony inside the council meeting. Despite many councillors lauding her bravery in telling her story, Councillor Dheer, who led the consultation on the PSPO, dismissed it saying "this isn't about abortion". Council leader Julian Bell said that the designated area within the safe zone (but over 100 metres from the clinic) where counsellors would be allowed would alleviate her fears that women would not be able to access help as she did. However, he then expressed concerns that counsellors would continue their "harassment" from the designated area, and pledged to look into removing it at the six month review. He was later seen speaking to Sister Supporter and Marie Stopes representatives outside the hall, and wearing a Sister Supporter badge.
Banning help for vulnerable women
SPUC's Alithea Williams, who was at the rally and council meeting said: "This is a bad day for democracy in the UK. For the first time, a council has banned peaceful public acts of witness and freedom of expression.
"However, what is most shocking is that a Council has voted to stop members of the public offering charitable help to vulnerable women. There are mothers here who have been speaking out about the help they received from the Good Counsel Network which allowed them to keep their babies – babies who are alive today because their mothers were offered another choice. They are devastated that this choice is now going to be denied to other women."
"Travesty for public freedoms"
Civil liberties groups have also slammed this authoritarian action by Ealing Council. Groups including Liberty wrote to councillors to express concern, while Josie Appleton, director of Manifesto Club, which has been campaigning against the over-use of PSPOs for the past four years, said the vote was a "travesty for public freedoms".
She said: "If protesters are harassing or obstructing women, they should be prosecuted under the existing criminal law. It should not be a crime for them to pray silently or offer women a leaflet as they enter the clinic. We visited the site for several hours and could see no evidence of harassment or public nuisance."
The PSPO will come into force after a five day cooling period. Clare McCullough, head of the Good Counsel Network, said that they would be taking legal advice as to the next steps. She also reported today that one of the group's counsellors was attacked by a male passerby outside the clinic.
This landmark decision has received extensive media attention. You can view appearances from SPUC staff here, and from Clare and others on our Youtube channel.
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