The effort to shut down the pro-life voice and push them out of the public space has sadly been increasing in recent months, firstly with an effort to introduce a censorship zone around a Birmingham abortion clinic, followed by a consultation in Scotland to introduce censorship zones around all healthcare settings that provide abortion.
Now, Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council is proposing creating what it calls a ‘buffer zone’ around one of its local abortion clinics, seeking specifically to ban prayer and other pro-life activities.
Bournemouth Council is now consulting on introducing this censorship zone. Whether or not you live around Bournemouth, please respond to the consultation, in your own words, outlines why this proposal is so dangerous.
The consultation closes on 31 August. You can also read the consultation document, which outlines the proposal in detail.
The proposals suggest prohibiting the following activities:
- Protesting with respect to issues related to abortion services, including but not limited to graphic, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling
- An attempt to or actual interfering, intimidating or harassing service users or members of staff of the BPAS clinic
- Recording or photographing a service user or member of staff of the BPAS clinic
- Displaying text or images, playing music, voice or audio recordings in relation to abortion
- Holding vigils’ where members audibly pray, recite scripture, genuflect, sprinkle holy water on the ground or cross themselves if they perceive a service-user is passing by.
The proposals also suggest having a ‘designated area’ within the zone, allowing no more than four people at a time into it to take part in what it says could be ‘peaceful protesting’ – however, praying and reciting Scripture would still be banned.
Anyone found guilty of doing one of these things could face a fine of up to £1,000 (or level 3 on the standard scale).
The council has said that it has ‘identified’ and ‘considered’ various options, however recognises that it has not been able to speak to individuals “not affiliated to a group.” This is likely to include many pro-lifers, as a large proportion are volunteers who go to pray outside abortion clinics. Those who have been helped by pro-life organisations outside the clinics appear not to have been approached.
Despite the council’s supposed efforts to ‘identify’ and ‘examine’ other options, in reality, it appears to have approached the issue with a presupposed assumption that these zones need to exist.
The consultation document argues that “concerns have been raised to the council since 2018 … relating to the presence and activities of Pro-Life groups in the immediate area of the clinic, reporting distress to service users caused by this activity.” However, no evidence of this alleged ‘distress’ is recorded in the consultation document or elsewhere, and the council has not laid out what these ‘concerns’ really are.
Magdalena Szymanska, from pro-life group The Light Pro-Life Bournemouth, spoke to Universe, highlighting the opposition to the group’s presence outside the clinic: “They don’t want people praying or standing outside BPAS abortion centres because it interferes with their business. All we want to do is pray. We have prayed in the past, including the Forty Days For Life events twice per year. They’re basically trying hard to get rid of us. They don’t want us even standing or praying. Holding a rosary is seen as harassment.”
As has been noted with the attempt to introduce other censorship zones, it is usually the pro-life groups who experience harassment and intimidation from the public, rather than the other way around.
Magdalena explained further: “We helped a number of women who are now happy mothers. Some of them decide to keep their babies … People from the public have been coming up to us to say, ‘thank you for what you do’, ‘I don’t agree with abortion’. The police have never brought charges against us. Over many years, we have never had any arrests, no claims of harassment.”
How to respond
The consultation is mainly multiple choice. We would suggest ticking the options saying ‘strongly do not support’ and ‘none of the above’. There is also plenty of space to outline why you disagree with the proposals. We suggest making some of the following points, in your own words:
- A ban on praying would breach freedom of religion and belief;
- Despite it being called a ‘safe access zone’, the zone is not safe for pro-lifers; it would more accurately create a censorship zone around the clinic. These zones discriminate against people who hold a pro-life viewpoint;
- These zones could also discriminate against a pregnant woman’s right to access information, if handing out information outside the abortion clinic is not allowed;
- These types of zones open the door wide to future legislation banning all forms of prayer, and even reading from the Bible in public;
- Any punishment given to a person for praying, protesting or reading from the Bible would infringe on their human rights and their freedoms of religion and belief, and speech and expression;
- The council has not provided any evidence or explanation of how pro-life groups are causing ‘distress’ to the public, and has not laid out what ‘concerns’ have been raised;
- The council appears not to have consulted with volunteers who work with pro-life groups. Similarly, those who support the organisations or have been helped by them do not appear to have been approached or consulted;
- There is no evidence that pro-life prayer vigils cause any ‘disruption’ or ‘harassment’ to those accessing the clinic. There is more evidence (from across the nation) to suggest that the peaceful pro-lifers themselves are more often harassed by members of the public opposed to their presence;
- The police have never brought charges against The Light Pro-Life Bournemouth, and members of the public have appreciated their presence outside the clinic.
You can respond quickly and easily to the consultation online. The consultation closes on 31 August.