Councils debate anti-abortion protests

Question of freedom of speech versus freedom not to be harassed

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Campaigners in the north are lobbying councils to ban anti-abortion protesters from outside clinics after reports of harassment and intimidation by pro-life groups.

At a recent meeting Manchester City Council debated a motion proposing to “take all necessary actions within its powers” to stop women being “intimidated and harassed” outside abortion clinics.

In Leeds campaigners have called on the local authority to create a buffer zone around the Marie Stopes Clinic and use the Public Space Protection Order legislation – currently used to clamp down on issues like drunken behaviour – to protect women.

One woman told Big Issue North how protesters left her in tears when she visited the Marie Stopes Clinic in Manchester for a termination in 2010.

The woman, who did not wish to be named, said: “I was walking towards the clinic with my mum and there were four protesters standing in the road. One of them was a priest. They were holding banners and a cross. A woman came up to me and tried to hand me a leaflet and she told me not to kill my baby.

“I immediately burst into tears and my mum shouted and told them to go away. If my mum hadn’t been there I would have felt really intimidated. I didn’t want to be there anyway but they made the whole experience a lot worse than it already was.”

Manchester City Council’s lead councillor for women, Sarah Judge, said the council had received reports of women having holy water thrown in their path and being handed graphic leaflets by protesters outside the clinic.

Michael Freeley of pro-life group 40 Days For Life – which holds twice-yearly, 40-day vigils outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in Fallowfield – denied the group uses intimidating tactics and said the council’s proposals are an attack on freedom of speech. He said: “We flat out deny that there has been any harassment or abuse. The council say it’s been going on for years and it’s a constant thing, yet there’s not been one arrest, there’s not been one caution. They have not got one piece of evidence.

“As an organisation if somebody says they don’t want to talk to us that’s fine. The vast majority of people just ignore us, but if they want to talk they can.”

Judge said the council has to strike a balance between the protesters’ right to free speech with the right not to be harassed. “For the people of Manchester who are trying to access a health service in private this is a very big problem,” she said. “The people who are taking part in these protests would advise that they are doing so peacefully. However these women are at their most vulnerable point and facing one of the most difficult decisions anyone can make and they are being confronted by people who already have a clear view on whether abortion is right or wrong, and they are having that view forced upon them.

“The complaints log held by the clinics show a great number of complaints on a daily basis. The complaints vary from people standing outside handing out leaflets, which to be honest is still inappropriate, to one where a man urinated in the car park.

“The debate follows a similar proposal by Southwark Council, which considered buffer zones for protests but later said it did not have enough evidence to bring in the restrictions, despite the councillors unanimously backing the measures.”

Photo: A Catholic priest (left) joins pro-life campaigners protesting against abortion in Belfast (PA)

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Interact: Responses to Councils debate anti-abortion protests

  • Paul
    12 Mar 2018 17:13
    Emma’s comment is my second favourite Gandhi quotation, my first is taken from his book ‘All men are brothers’. ‘It seems to me as clear as daylight that abortion would be a crime’. Not a single shred of evidence of any misbehaviour by pro-lifers was produced by those willing to prop up the abortion pedlars who make vast amounts of money from destroyed lives, that’s real shame.
  • Emma
    15 Feb 2018 05:12
    “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” -Mahatma Gandhi These people really should be ashamed of themselves. As usual with so- called religious people, they claim it’s anout unborn children, but in reality it’s about forcing their opinions on others.

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