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Caroline Farrow: A Left-wing council, a pro-life group and a blatant misuse of power


In an absolute mockery of democracy, Labour-controlled Ealing Council in west London has voted to impose Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) on the area surrounding a Marie Stopes clinic in the borough to stop peaceful prayer vigils by pro-life groups. With absolutely no sense of irony, the council meeting designed to suppress and prohibit Catholic prayer vigils was opened with Islamic prayers. Dan Crawford, one of the councillors (more on him later), was at pains to point out to me on Twitter that there was no slight to Christians intended. Like all right-thinking councils these days, Ealing is proud of and wishes to celebrate diversity, so the only right and proper thing to do when it comes to public meetings is to forget the Judeo-Christian foundations of this society and for the different faiths to take turns when meetings are convened. It just so happened that at this particular meeting it was the turn of Islam.

In any event, it exposed the faux diversity so eagerly championed by Ealing Council. Most of mainstream Islam is, like Christianity, opposed to abortion, so the councillors had absolutely zero interest in that faith being represented either. The gesture was pure tokenism.

When it came to the meeting itself, one might have thought that as well as hearing submissions from the petitioner wishing to ban the pro-life group the Good Counsel Network (GCN) from continuing the vigils outside the Mattock Lane facility where they have been for the past 23 years, the council would be interested in hearing from those on the vigils themselves.

No such luck. Only the petitioner, one Anna Vegilo-White, founder of the pro-choice group Sister Supporter, who had mounted a local campaign, garnering 3,593 signatures on a petition from residents, was allowed five minutes to speak, before the council ‘debated’ her motion, a ‘debate’ which consisted of councillors saying how terrible it was that these poor women were being harassed, before taking a vote.

During said debate, a pile of ‘evidence’ was produced. Evidence which GCN was pilloried by councillors for not responding to. The reason why it had not responded? It had never been shown or presented with it! Furthermore GCN was given no opportunity to make any representation to the councillors at the meeting, neither was it given any information whatsoever by this Left-wing council about the process. Having been left in the dark in terms of what was happening, GCN rang Ealing Council a number of times to ascertain what was happening and when, and was told that this was not the evidence-gathering stage; this would happen after the petition had been presented. Therefore it was something of a shock for GCN members to find themselves under fire for not having responded to evidence which they had been told was not even being collected as yet!

At the end of the meeting, councillors congratulated themselves on what a marvellous debate it had been, causing several attendees, including Catholic clergy, almost to burst at the seams, because nobody aside from the petitioner and various Labour councillors, including those who had supported and encouraged Anna Vegilo-White, had been invited to speak.

According to one of my sources who attended, two of the councillors abstained from the vote, which was incredibly brave in a charged situation of hostility and under pressure from their colleagues. Afterwards one of them stated that having heard only one side of the story they felt simply not in a position to decide.

GCN helps hundreds of women to keep their babies and not to choose abortion every year. When contacted by media outlets to comment on events, it has offered to put forward some of the women who were helped by the vigils to tell their story. Not one single media outlet has taken up the offer. Neither has any of the elected councillors taken GCN up on its offer to meet these women.

One of the Labour councillors, Dan Crawford, who was tweeting triumphantly about the proposed ban on GCN and defending the Muslim prayers, indignantly claimed on Twitter that he has supposedly met six women helped by GCN in his constituency surgery. This was news to GCN, which is somewhat incredulous about this claim. If true, it beggars belief that a councillor could meet six women who were given the assistance that they needed to enable them to choose life for their baby, assistance not provided by the government, and then tweet that his proudest moment as a councillor was being able to vote in favour of a motion which would deny this choice to other women. Councillor Crawford clearly felt that these women who had taken the time to meet him were not important enough to represent.

GCN acknowledges that no woman ought to be prevented from entering an abortion clinic and neither should she be subject to any kind of abuse of the type which is claimed by Marie Stopes. As Clare McCullough, one of the founders of GCN, notes, their aim is to get women to engage with them, and they are hardly likely to do that if they are subject to abuse. In any event, Marie Stopes International has two cameras pointing at those on the vigils 24/7 and has not provided any video or photographic evidence of such wrongdoing. The evidence which has been submitted consists of unsubstantiated hearsay. If the entrance to the clinic was being blocked, or women were being abused and heckled, then the police would rightly come and arrest those involved.

It is precisely because there is no illegality or wrongdoing that Sister Supporter (who engage in aggressive protests of their own) have had, with the backing and encouragement of Labour councillors, the Labour MP Rupa Huq and the abortion providers Marie Stopes and BPAS, to resort to taking the extraordinary measure of PSPOs, which the Tory government assured the public were not designed to prevent freedom of speech.

This is not about the behaviour of those attending the vigils, but about the feelings of women having an abortion, who are deemed to know their own minds, have made a firm decision, know exactly what they are doing and to have researched all of the available options (even when they are in a position of coercion) but way too fragile to be able to cope with a physical reminder of people who think that taking the life of an unborn baby is tragic and wrong.

What a shame that in their earnest deliberations about how dreadful the Good Counsel Network is for attempting to offer desperate women a last-ditch choice, Ealing Council did not consider Marie Stopes’s own woeful record when it comes to ensuring women’s safety. Only last year Marie Stopes was prevented from performing abortions on under-18s and women formally recorded as vulnerable, thanks to issues of safeguarding and consent. Perhaps if it gave out accurate information and offered a genuine alternative to abortion, then there would be no need for the vigils whatsoever.

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Caroline Farrow
Caroline Farrow
Columnist for the Catholic Universe

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