The London Assembly has been called “illiberal” and Orwellian after voting to call on the mayor “to clarify the powers available to [police] to arrest and prosecute” pro-life campaigners who pray near abortion clinics and offer support to mothers, accusing them of “harassment”.
The motion, passed Thursday and proposed by Labour members Dr. Onkar Sahotam and Fiona Twycross, labelled pro-life activists (pictured, above) and Christian women’s support groups “anti-choice campaigners” and accused them of “obstruction, intimidation and harassment”.
However, the Good Counsel Network (GCN), the pro-life group concerned, say there has not been a single conviction or caution from police in their 23 years of prayer vigils and outreach gatherings in Ealing, West London, near the Marie Stopes abortion clinic, where their campaigning began.
Mothers who have been helped by the group near the clinic have praised their actions.
In October, Ealing Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion banning the group praying and conducting their pro-life outreach inside a 100-metre “buffer zone” around the clinic.
The pro-abortion, radical feminist “direct action group” Sister Supporter, who pushed for the vote, hopes it will inspire similar bans all over the country.
“We’re hoping Ealing sets a precedent to stop the growing harassment of women using abortion services. What happens here could start a domino effect for other councils to follow,” Anna Veglio-White, a spokesman for the group has said.
However, Conservative London Assembly members say the GCN has been attacked because politicians “disagree” with their views, not because they have acted unlawfully, and the GCN insist in a statement passed to Breitbart London that there is no evidence of “harassment”.
“If [London Assembly members] watched that testimony [we gave to the Home Affairs Select Committee earlier this month] they would have seen that when asked about prosecutions at pro-life vigils, that [the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who operate the clinic] could not name one conviction for an offence,” they claim.
They continue: “So, when [Assembly Members] claim harassment, we need to be really clear about what we mean by that. Because what is happening isn’t anything that resembles assault or harassment under the law.”
They added: “It isn’t the case that local police chiefs have been asking for new powers because they don’t need them. Nor have they been calling for buffer zones.”
However, footage published by the GCN on YouTube shows Sister Supporter demonstrators using megaphones to shouting down and intimidating the pro-life group, as well as surrounding and marching towards them as they pray and sing hymns near the clinic.
Ahead of Thursday’s vote, UKIP London Assembly member David Kurten visited GCN members to hear how they have reached out to mothers near the clinic and supported them so they can keep their babies.
In an impassioned speech to the London Assembly, he argued that the group held “dignified prayer vigils” and were offering mothers “a choice” to keep their children alive, rather than acting as “anti-choice campaigners” as they are accused.
He said the motion “so misrepresents the truth of what is happening outside the abortion clinics that it could be straight out of Nineteen Eighty-Four,” adding: “If we vote for this motion we are going to take away perhaps the last choice, the last hope that these mothers have not to have an abortion.”
Conservative Assembly Member Andrew Boff argued that the groups spread “love” not “hate” and said the ban could restrict free speech and choice.
“It is surely right that mothers be fully aware of the options available to them. You cannot make an informed choice unless you are aware of the options,” he explained.
He said the pro-life groups “are giving the mothers more choices and in fact, they are giving choices to people who are yet to see the light of day.”
Adding: “There is no hate speech there. Just love speech. 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.”
Steve O’Connell, another Conservative Assembly member, labelled the motion “illiberal”, explaining: “Attempt to ban protest partly because we disagree with the ethos of those protesters and that is fundamentally wrong.”
However, Fiona Twycross, who proposed the motion, said: “No woman should ever be subjected to intimidation, particularly during what is a very personal, and often difficult, time. This is not about infringing on freedom of speech but stopping the infringement of women’s rights to safety and privacy.
“We need clear guidelines about the police’s power to arrest and prosecute those resorting to obstruction, intimidation, and harassment.”