Pro-life activists in the United Kingdom lost their first challenge of a law that prevents them from praying, demonstrating and offering help in front of an abortion clinic in London.
The high court ruled that Ealing council can create a 100-meter, protest-free buffer zone around the Marie Stopes clinic. The council was the first in the country to make such a decision in an attempt to shield women from demonstrators.
The high court in the U.K. is the first stop for high value and high importance cases. The court’s rulings can be appealed.
Mr. Justice Turner found the ban interfered with the activists’ human rights, but said the council was entitled to conclude it was a “necessary step in a democratic society.”
“There was substantial evidence that a very considerable number of users of the clinic reasonably felt that their privacy was being very seriously invaded at a time and place when they were most vulnerable and sensitive to uninvited attention,” he said.
The public spaces protection order (PSPO) was adopted in April after reports of “intimidation, harassment and distress” from women using the facility.
In his ruling, Justice Turner wrote, “It also follows that, in this regard, I am also satisfied that the defendant [council] was entitled to conclude that the effect of the activities of the protesters was likely to make such activities unreasonable, and justified the restrictions imposed.”
Buffer Zones Challenged by Woman Helped by Protesters
A challenge to the buffer zone was brought by Alina Dulgheriu, a mother who was helped by pro-life vigils. Dulgheriu said she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation, from pro-life protesters, and now has a “beautiful” six-year-old daughter.”
Lawyers acting on her behalf said that the Council’s decision to ban pro-life vigils around the clinic was “unlawful, invalid and unjustified.”
In a statement following the ruling, she said she is looking into options to challenge the judge’s decision.
She added: “I am saddened and shocked that the court has upheld a PSPO that prevents good people giving help to mothers who desperately want it.
“I am devastated for those women that, since the introduction of the Ealing PSPO, have not been able to access the loving help that I did.
“I feel desperately sorry for the vigil members who since the move to create this PSPO have been consistently subject to abuse on the street and slander online.”
Antonia Tully of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), said it is shocking “that the high court is allowing a council to ban peaceful public acts of witness and freedom of expression and stop members of the public offering charitable help to pregnant women. A mother who was herself given this help and has a beautiful six-year-old daughter as a result brought this challenge, and a judge has decided that no other mothers may be helped this way, and no one else’s sons or daughters may be saved.”
Ealing council’s leader, Julian Bell, said the local authority was delighted by the decision. “This sends a clear message… The harassment and intimidation of local residents and those accessing legally available medical services was totally unacceptable,” he said.
According to the Guardian, eight councils in England are considering setting up similar abortion clinic buffer zones.