A British charity that provides women with alternatives to abortion was ejected from the Lambeth Country Show after a local government official said the group had misrepresented itself in its application for a booth at the fair.
Life, a non-sectarian charity which provides assistance to women and children, exhibited information about fetal development and support available to women in crisis pregnancies from a booth at the country show - a fair- on July 21. When volunteers and staff arrived the next morning, they say they found their stall dismantled and their property removed from the site.
The annual event was held in Brockwell Park, south London, and was attended by approximately 150,000 people over the course of the weekend.
Event organizers distanced themselves from the eviction, saying that the decision was taken by Lambeth Council, the local government body sponsoring the event. A statement released by Life said that they were not contacted about the decision or offered an explanation for it.
“They would not give us an exact reason for the action but did say that Life was against the values of Lambeth Council and was not in line with the causes the council has been funding and supporting. However they were then unable to tell us what those values were,” the statement said.
The action comes amid increasing efforts by local governments across Britain to stifle pro-life speech. Earlier this month, the High Court of England and Wales upheld a ban on prayer vigils near an abortion clinic in west London.
Lambeth’s removal of the Life stall followed a tweet by local councilor Ed Davie, alleging that Life “wasn’t officially allowed” to be there, was “not on the approved list of exhibitors,” and that he would “make sure” they were not permitted to remain through Sunday.
In a subsequent tweet, Davie further alleged that Life had used “inaccurate information” in their application to exhibit at the show. Lambeth Council’s official Twitter account repeated that allegation later that day.
Life, which offers information and support to women in crisis pregnancies, providing accommodation for homeless pregnant women, said they explicitly described themselves as “a pro-life charity” in their application. Their submission to Lambeth Council included pictures of similar stalls they had run at past events. Their application was submitted in January 2018, and approved by the council in April.
“Nothing on our stall was offensive,” said Anne Scanlan, Life’s Director of Education. “There were lifelike fetal models and pictures of the unborn baby at different gestational stages which can be seen on any pregnancy website, including the National Health Service.”
Free speech has come under increasing pressure in the United Kingdom. National “hate speech” laws have made the public discussion of issues like gay marriage, the transgender movement, and even tradition religious beliefs a potential criminal offense. Pro-life advocates have voiced concern that opposition to abortion, or even speaking in favor of life, is being treated as outside of acceptable public discourse.
Actions like those taken by local governments in Lambeth and Ealing effectively brand pro-life views as anti-social and their expression harassment, pro-life advocates say. Should courts continue to uphold those decisions, many fear the creeping criminalization of opposition to abortion.
“At a time when there is a clamor for free speech and allowing dissenting voices to be heard, we have a local council aggressively shutting down the voice of pro-lifers trying to reach out to vulnerable women in crisis and educating people about life in the womb,” continued Scanlan.
“It is now routine, and apparently acceptable, for anyone who dares to express any view that is not pro-abortion, to risk coming under vociferous and sustained attack for doing so.”
“Lambeth Council reportedly said we are against their values. We are curious to know what these values are and look forward to hearing a fuller and more detailed explanation, and hopefully an apology from the council for the distress caused to our Life staff and volunteers.”
U.K. Catholic journalist and pro-life advocate Caroline Farrow summed up the cumulative effects of the recent moves by Ealing and Lambeth for CNA.
“Defending the removal of the stall on Twitter, councillor Ed Davie made an explicit reference to the introduction of buffer zones in Ealing, and the supposed harassment of women proving, how this is being leveraged to criminalise any expression of pro-life views.”
“In short, the decision of Ealing Council is being leveraged to accuse any pro-life view of constituting hate-speech and harassment. It has validated the bullying bureaucrats.”
Life has written to Councilor Davie and the Lambeth Council asking for an explanation of their removal from the country show. They are also seeking a public apology for the claim that they misrepresented themselves in the application process and are seeking legal advice on the matter.