Ealing Council’s ban on pro-life supporters outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic has been branded “inherently disproportionate” in court.
Judges heard that the council’s action was an unlawful interference with their rights to free speech and peaceful protest.
In April, Ealing Council issued the UK’s first ever abortion clinic Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), which bars campaigners from within 100 metres of the Marie Stopes building.
Freedom of expression
Alasdair Henderson, representing the Good Counsel Network (GCN), said the PSPO had “wide ramifications for freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and other issues”.
He also said the group’s position on the “morality or legality” of abortion did not form the basis of their arguments in the case.
“Not only do they condemn active harassment or intimidation – and they emphatically deny they have done anything approaching it – such behaviour would be entirely counter-productive to what they want to do”, he said.
“Obviously they are pro-life, but their sole means of achieving that is to offer help and support to women considering abortion.”
The GCN’s Clare McCullough said the legal challenge had provided judges “an opportunity to understand the many ways in which mothers have been supported by witness at vigils”.
The challenge was brought on behalf of Alina Dulgheriu, who decided to continue her pregnancy after being helped by the GCN when she considered an abortion seven years ago.
When she launched the legal action last month, she said that despite over 20 years of peaceful vigils the council had chosen “the most extreme option available to them”.
She said: “I cannot put into words the joy, the beauty and the love that my daughter has brought to my life.
“She would not be with us today if it weren’t for the vigils that Ealing Council has criminalised.”
Ealing Council’s decision is not just opposed by pro-life campaigners but also by free speech advocates.
Last month, a letter – signed by Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship, the Freedom Association and Peter Tatchell – said Ealing’s PSPO was “so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression”.
It added that if the ban stood, or invited the introduction of more buffer zones, it would set a “dangerous precedent” for freedom of speech in the UK.