Ealing Council in west London voted almost unanimously on Tuesday, October 11, to take action to stop pro-life campaigners from harassing women going in and out of a Marie Stopes abortion clinic.
It was a landmark decision for the UK, which is expected to be followed by many other local authorities across the country who have seen a rise in demonstrations by Christian groups, often influenced by extreme pro-life campaigners in the United States.
The council took action after 3,593 residents signed a petition put forward by a women's rights group, Sister Supporter, calling on them to create a buffer zone around the clinic in the center of Ealing.
Graphic Photos, Distressing Words
Anna Veglio-White, founder of Sister Supporter, made an impassioned speech calling for action to protect women who were at their most vulnerable.
She said the protesters showed graphic photographs, including one of a dead fetus, and had on one occasion told a teenage girl she would be "haunted by her baby" and "punished by God" if she went ahead with a termination.
Ealing council leader, Councillor Julian Bell, said they would now consider what steps to take to stop protesters harassing women outside the clinic.
One possibility is a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which would forbid people from entering a certain area around the clinic.
Sister Supporter presented an evidence pack which included photographs of protesters standing right in front of the entrance, and Ms. Veglio-White said it was common for them to call out to the women as "mom," which was highly distressing.
It was truly depressing to be at the Ealing Council meeting this evening proposing to stop help being offered to women going to Marie Stopes— Elizabeth H. (@LibbyMag) 10 October 2017
The pro-life side was given no chance to give their side of the story, nor to present the testimony of women who have been helped.
— Elizabeth H. (@LibbyMag) 10 October 2017
Free Speech or 'Bullying'?
Clare McCullough, of the Good Counsel Network, said the PSPO would "suppress freedom of speech."
"It would be a grave misuse and would have implications for all kinds of groups who are protesting all kinds of things," Ms. McCullough said.
What this morning demonstrates is that abortion causes a lot of unresolved hurt and anger that makes people lash out. It's a terrible thing.— Caroline Farrow (@CF_Farrow) October 11, 2017
"Ealing Council votes to ban free speech and religious freedom of pro-life UK citizens," said Nick Donnelly, from the Protect The Faith group.
The group is asking all churches in the UK to toll their bells 50 times on October 29 to commemorate the "eight million babies" lost to abortion since legislation was passed in 1967.
The 1967 Abortion Act legalized the termination of pregnancies before 24 weeks — or later in extreme cases, such as danger to mother's life — but there is no national legislation to protect the clinics.
The Ealing vigil has been taking place for 23 years, but Sister Supporter said it had been getting more and more aggressive and local residents also felt intimidated.
Ealing has 69 councillors and only two of those in the chamber on Tuesday did not vote in favor — Conservative councillors Joanna Dabrowska and Alex Stafford.