By Caroline Farrow
A few weeks ago, I outlined the situation in Ealing, where prayer and offers of help to pregnant women in crisis has been banned thanks to a draconian Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) outside of the Marie Stopes abortion centre.
The PSPO does not only simply cover the area directly outside of the clinic, but a vast zone which encompasses part of a local park, meaning that doing anything which could be interpreted as expressing an opinion on abortion, even if it is saying a rosary on a park bench, will lead to a criminal conviction.
The following week, The Universe reported that Alina Dulgheriu, one of the mothers who chose to have her baby thanks to the help on offer outside the abortion centre, had filed a case in the Court of Appeal in order to overturn the decision of the High Court which supported Ealing Council’s imposition of the order. She has launched a crowdfunding campaign in order to help her meet the significant legal costs involved.
At time of writing, she has collected just under £25,000, half of the £50,000 which is the anticipated cost of bringing the action.
Considering that a fundraiser to hoist a balloon of London mayor Sadiq Kahn of a similarly puerile nature to the one floated over the capital of Donald Trump, amassed £30,000 within a couple of days, the response to Alina’s fundraiser should shame every single Catholic. This single mother from Romania is fighting to protect the fundamental rights of UK citizens to freedom of speech, of assembly and of religion. These are freedoms which we have hitherto taken for granted. If every single person who attended a weekend Mass was to have donated between 50p and £1 then she would have met her target in no time.
As things stand Alina is searching for a high net-worth individual to assist her and publicising her fund-raiser far and wide, including on US Catholic TV, in order to make sure that she is not bankrupted.
One of the reasons why Alina is struggling to reach her target is because most people won’t have heard about her unless they keep up to date with Catholic media. Another is because many people feel uncomfortable about the supposed ‘harassment’ which they have heard takes place outside the clinics, with lurid stories of women being chased down the road, called baby-killers and told that they will be haunted by the ghost of their deceased baby.
As the aim of the vigils is to engage with women, to encourage them to take a leaflet which highlights the alternatives to abortion which they may not be aware of, including financial help and support, the last thing that volunteers are going to be doing is creating a hostile and aggressive environment by running after women and shouting abuse at them. If this kind of behaviour was occurring it would indeed be reprehensible, but it is not. The only ‘evidence’ consists of handwritten testimony in a log-book inside the abortion centre and eyewitness statements collected by the pro-choice pressure group who were looking to ban the vigils in the first place. None of the statements have ever been corroborated either by a second eyewitness or, more importantly, by video evidence, despite the two cameras constantly trained on the vigil participants.
Even if ordinary people of good-will accept the High Court’s findings that the evidence of harassment presented did not meet a criminal standard or acknowledge the lack of arrests during the 23 years that the vigil has taken place, they still believe that because the presence of pro-lifers outside abortion centres makes women feel uncomfortable, then that is reason enough for them to be banned. However, the events of last weekend should make anyone on the fence think twice.
Life Charity, which does not participate in any vigils or protests outside abortion centres, booked a pitch at the Lambeth Country Fair. Following a lively day on the Saturday, where they had a lot of positive engagement from the general public who appreciated their displays celebrating the beauty and wonder of unborn human life, they turned up for the second day of the fair, only to discover that their tent and all their belongings had mysteriously disappeared.
Upon enquiries they discovered that everything had been dismantled and dumped unceremoniously in a supposedly secure area on the site, only accessible to site staff. Lambeth Council had decided after receiving complaints that their stall was not in accordance with Council values and inappropriate at a family show. The organisers did not even bother to contact Life before removing their property or afterwards, to tell them where they could collect it.
Life’s message is neither confrontational nor explicitly anti-abortion. Their display consisted of some anatomically and correctly-sized plastic models of unborn babies. Apparently, at the end of the first day, they had received some antagonism (perhaps organised) but the organisers said that security had confirmed that Life’s staff and volunteers had behaved impeccably, with courtesy, dignity and good humour, taking the criticism in good faith.
When challenged on Twitter, one of the councillors responsible for the decision, Ed Davie, attempted to claim that Life had hoodwinked their way into the fair and were not on the official list of exhibitors. Life Charity produced evidence to the contrary, proving they had been transparent about their organisation upon their application for the pitch. Not only had they included their website address, the first line of their statement said they were a pro-life organisation and they also included photographs of their other exhibitions at similar events to the Lambeth one.
Ed Davie has yet to respond as to why he got his facts wrong but he did note that Lambeth Council is about to pass similar measures to those of Ealing Council in terms of banning vigils outside abortion centres. He clearly conflated the work of Life with those of the Good Counsel Network, but it wouldn’t matter even if they were the same organisation. Those outside the clinics are always being told that they ought to take their ‘protests’ elsewhere and are free to do so, but as this incident demonstrates, it doesn’t matter where you express a pro-life point of view. If it is in public, attempts will be made to shut it down.
One deleted tweet pointed to a photograph of the model foetuses and asked how on earth such ‘outrageous material’ could be seen at a family show. The Brook Family Planning Centre, based three pitches away, happily dishing out free condoms and graphic leaflets about anal sex and advice on how to transition to a different gender, obviously escaped his discerning eye.
Life charity has said that it is seeking legal advice on a number of counts; breach of contract and defamation spring to mind, but their offending material is exactly the same sort of thing that you would see at an NHS roadshow or on display in the Natural History Museum, where nobody would suggest that they are too traumatic to be seen by children.
The decision in Ealing enables bureaucratic bullies all over the country to close down a point of view with which they disagree and which makes them feel uncomfortable. A point of view which is fundamental to the Catholic faith. What is happening is both illegal and extremely dangerous.
We should not leave it to the brave few like Alina or those at pro-life organisations to do all our heavy-lifting. Future generations are going to look at us with a sense of exasperation and disbelief, that we have allowed our freedoms to be chipped away.
In 2018 you can parade through the streets in sexually explicit costumes in the name of ‘Pride’, bear offensive and expletive-ridden banners in public but you can’t offer help to pregnant women in case it upsets anyone and in Ealing (which will soon be joined by a number of other UK cities) you cannot pray.
If we care about the freedom to defend human dignity and to be able to pray in public, all of us need to do so much more, whether that’s in terms of donating to Alina (if you haven’t, please look her up and do so), pestering our parish priests and communities to get on board or writing to council officials, MPs and so on and refusing to be fobbed off. We need to be prepared to do the spadework ourselves and we crucially need our Catholic leaders to step up to the plate, otherwise a pro-life voice is soon going to be illegal.
• To contribute to Alina’s legal fund, see: https://www.gofundme.com/alinalegalfund
• Caroline Farrow is a Catholic journalist and broadcaster. You can read her column in The Universe every week.
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Picture: Elizabeth Howard, who supports mothers outside abortion clinics, is joined by Alina Dulgheriu and her five-year-old daughter Sarah, as she speaks to the media outside the High Court following filing a high court challenge to the Ealing censorship zone (Isabel Infantes/EMPICS).