Press release: Richmond Council taken to High Court over censorship zone which bans prayer and offers of support outside abortion clinic

 In Be Here For Me

Press release for immediate release

Richmond Council taken to High Court over censorship zone which bans prayer and offers of support outside abortion clinic

 

23 May 2019 – Legal proceedings have been launched in the High Court against Richmond Council to challenge a controversial Public Space Protection Order (“PSPO”) around an abortion clinic on Rosslyn Road that makes it a criminal offence to, among other things, pray or have conversations about abortion. The legal challenge has been brought by Justyna Pasek, who has personally supported women visiting the abortion clinic in Richmond for over five years, offering them alternatives to abortion.

The broadly worded PSPO came into effect on 1 April 2019 and specifically criminalises otherwise peaceful activities concerning abortion such as:

  • Conversations about abortion or alternative options
  • Counselling
  • Prayer
  • Offering leaflets that outline the practical help that women can access
  • Any “act of approval or disapproval”

Richmond Council voted to proceed with the implementation of the censorship zone despite “major” concerns being raised by civil rights organisations, including Liberty, which submitted that the provisions of the PSPO are “too widely drawn and likely to inhibit lawful protest”.

The development in Richmond comes as the ongoing legal challenge in Ealing is set to be heard by the Court of Appeal on 16 July. The High Court judgment which upheld the Ealing PSPO made clear that there was no “green light” for councils to bring in PSPOs to ban pro-life vigils, however Richmond’s PSPO is worded almost identically to Ealing’s PSPO.

PSPOs have been in the headlines recently as they have been used by councils to ban activities such as begging, spitting and rough sleeping. Richmond Council previously lost a challenge to another controversial PSPO that would have criminalised local dog walkers if their dogs so much as urinated whilst out on a walk, and they have set aside £100,000 in anticipation of a legal challenge over this PSPO. A crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of Justyna’s legal challenge raised over £10,000 in one week, and the crowdfunder for the case in Ealing has raised over £50,000.

The Home Secretary rejected nationwide “buffer zones” last September highlighting that “the majority of activities are more passive in nature” and made clear that there are a wide range of existing powers already available to local authorities and the police to deal with any problematic behaviour outside of abortion clinics.

Justyna Pasek, said:

“I understand what is at stake in Richmond because I have stood outside that abortion clinic many times and offered women alternatives to abortion.

“I have met hundreds of women who just needed a little help, at the right time and in the right place, in order to keep the child that they desperately wanted. The women in these situations are often very scared and vulnerable. Many of these women are being coerced into abortion and others just want the choice of exploring other options.

“The women I helped often told me they could not get the help they need in the abortion clinic, only abortion. Outside the clinic, however, the kind of help that is offered can really transform the situations these women find themselves in.

“Volunteers can provide financial help, counselling, help with accommodation and baby clothes. This practical and emotional support is often indispensable and life-changing to these women and many women credit this with saving their child’s life.

“Because of the censorship zone in Richmond, I can no longer offer help where women need me the most. I cannot stand back and allow Richmond Council to introduce a draconian censorship zone that prevents real choice for women. I will challenge the PSPO in Richmond for mothers who need help in the future, at the place they need it most.”

Clare Mulvany, spokeswoman for the Be Here For Me campaign said:

This is a completely disproportionate response to a peaceful vigil that has had a profoundly positive impact for many vulnerable women. Many women testified directly to the Council that they had been able to keep their babies because of the help offered by Justyna and others outside the Richmond abortion clinic.

“These women are very different to the privileged campaigners who led the campaign to implement the censorship zone in Richmond. The women who received our help outside the abortion clinic are often of immigrant status, they are poor, they are pushed to the margins, and they feel they have no alternative, but abortion. The only effect this censorship zone has, is to take away all positive options available to these women.

“Expelling pro-life vigil members at the behest of noisy activist groups in the absence of clear justification is extremely damaging for our society. The draconian PSPO must be challenged and we at Be Here For Me fully support Justyna and her brave efforts in court against Richmond Council.”

ENDS

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