'Freedom to pray - freedom of expression’ campaign launched in bid to defend peaceful vigils outside abortion centres
12 April 2018
Pro-life campaigners are launching a massive nationwide freedom campaign in a bid to stop councils using ASBO-style orders to ban peaceful prayer vigils outside abortion centres.
And they are calling on Britain’s “silent majority” to sign a petition to pro-abortion Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling on her to support their basic human rights.
The world’s oldest pro-life group the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) will take its “Freedom to Pray - Freedom Of Expression” message around the country with a series of 20 roadshow meetings already planned.
The campaign has been launched following the decision earlier this week by Ealing Council to impose a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to ban pro-lifers from staging prayer vigils close to the Marie Stopes clinic in the borough.
A number of other local authorities are understood to be preparing to follow suit.
It emerged today that Ealing Council has written to other councils urging them to follow their lead in implementing buffer zones – with no knowledge of any problems in those areas. Oxford Councillor Mary Clarkson tweeted: “Ealing Council have written to other councils, inc Oxford asking them to follow suit even though it’s none of their business what we do. Not aware of any problems in Oxford either at BPAS clinic or JR Hospital.” She added that there was no public demand for a PSPO, which have proved controversial when used for other reasons.
SPUC’s CEO John Smeaton hit out at the prospect and said:
“It is an absolute outrage that Christians are being banned from praying in public places in their own country. If this action was taken against other faith groups there would be rightful and furious condemnation of what amounts to nothing less than religious discrimination.”
Mr Smeaton added:
“This move is an all-out attack on the freedom of expression and on the freedom to pray of peaceful pro-life citizens in Britain. It is starting with the freedom to express that unborn children have the right to life and the harm abortion does to women, and the freedom to pray where one chooses.
“But, unless a stand is made, it will spread to other life and family issues on which powerful groups or the government want to enforce silence or conformity.
“And we are calling on the silent majority to join with us and make that stand.”
Mr Smeaton said that already 20 public meetings have been organised and more are expected to be announced in the near future.
Ealing council voted to create a “safe zone” around the Marie Stopes clinic to stop anti-abortion activists from allegedly harassing women.
But pro-lifers refute the claims and say that their supporters stage peaceful prayer gatherings and do not harass women using the clinic.
Mr Smeaton said:
“The big losers in the current attack on freedom are vulnerable women under pressure to have an abortion who are being denied the opportunity of receiving a quiet word of support from peaceful pro-life citizens. The winners are the abortion industry and men who want their wife or partner to get rid of a problem.”
The Ealing ban has been imposed under the terms of a public space protection order (PSPO) which have replaced ASBOs and are usually drawn up to deal with antisocial behaviour such as drinking in public places.
PSPOs are used where it can be shown that some form of “persistent” behaviour is having a “detrimental effect” on local people. A breach carries a fine of up to £1000.
Pro-life supporters have already crossed swords with Home Secretary Amber Rudd over her ‘misleading and inflammatory’ comments over proposals which could stop peaceful protests outside abortion clinics and criminalise campaigners.
SPUC handed over a petition with 8000-plus names to the Home Office some months ago stating that pro-life pavement counsellors stand near abortion clinics and offer women free help, without coercion, to avoid abortion. It is currently lawful to do this provided there is no obstruction or harassment.
But Ms Rudd snubbed the petition and announced her review of pro-life witness events outside abortion clinics.
John Smeaton said: "After decades of peaceful witness outside abortion clinics which have prompted no police action whatsoever, Amber Rudd has announced a Home Office review referring to so-called 'aggressive protesters' and to harassment and intimidation on the part of pro-life witnesses.
"The comments by Amber Rudd are likely to prejudice the review’s outcome and result in vulnerable women being denied vital information which, almost every day, leads a woman to rethink or decide against having an abortion."
Mr Smeaton added:
"It is completely ludicrous to suggest introducing new powers to stop small numbers of peaceful people praying outside abortion clinics and offering leaflets to women. Women are not being harassed. Pro-life counsellors cannot force a woman not to have an abortion. But for those women under pressure to abort, a pro-life presence is literally a life-saver."
SPUC say that many women who have come to pro-life counsellors for assistance say that there are children today who owe their very lives to the courage of these volunteers, standing out in all weathers and sometimes facing abuse from members of the public or even from officials.
Mr Smeaton said: “The abortion industry, which includes Marie Stopes and The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) is lobbying for the introduction of ‘buffer zones’ to ban pro-lifers from standing outside their premises. They stand to lose out financially every time a woman is helped to choose life for her baby. On average, each time a woman decides not to proceed with an abortion the clinic in question stands to lose well in excess of £500 in revenue.”
SPUC's campaign meetings are scheduled to take place in Southsea, Exeter, Leyland, Chislehurst, Coventry, Carmarthen, Newcastle Emlyn, Bromley, Kingston, Bristol, Reading, Cardiff, Buckfast, Lewisham, Oxford, Bournemouth, Newquay, Lincoln, Sunderland , Manchester, Abbey Wood, Sheffield.
For more information, please contact Alithea Williams, SPUC's Communications Officer, on: