Despite being a difficult topic to discuss, it seems abortion has been on everyone’s minds. In light of the Irish referendum, the recent action of Ealing council bears more significance than ever. The council passed a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) on April 10, after much campaigning by Rupa Huq MP, which bans pro-life activists from protesting outside the Marie Stopes abortion clinic. The consequences of this could be major, on both a small and large scale.
The argument here is not pro-life versus pro-choice. It is simply an argument of harassment. It is widely known, and strangely until now unchallenged, that anti-abortion protesters gather outside abortion clinics to shout profanities at those attempting to visit the centre. While the Good Council Network, which hosts ‘vigils’ outside the abortion clinic, has denied any wrongdoing, more than 300 people have reported to the council that the protestors were ‘intimidating and harassing’. While it could be claimed that the implementation of this ‘safe zone’ infringes upon the right to free speech and protest, there is a line between speaking your mind and persecuting those who stand in opposition.
Unlike many places in the world, I am proud to live in a country which provides women with the options they need. The unanimous vote of the council to implement the safe zone is heartening, but also raises the question: why haven’t all councils taken this action? While Ealing is a step in the right direction, for it to be effective would require a domino effect. Many women, as a result of the safe zone, will be saved from unnecessary distress, but in order to make a real difference the rest of the country must follow suit.
Whether you believe abortion is wrong, or you support a women’s right to choose, there is no excuse for the behaviour of these activists. I am always in full support of debate and speaking out, but there is a difference between expressing your views and punishing people, who in this case are likely to already be distressed, because they disagree. To tell a vulnerable woman she will ‘be haunted by her baby’ and that ‘God will punish you’, as was once overheard by staff, is simply inexcusable.
I fully commend Ealing council for their actions and I hope others will take notice, and subsequently action. The fact that this kind of behaviour is ongoing shocks me, but I have high hopes for a future in which women are more adequately supported.