After a London borough passed an ordinance earlier this month establishing a buffer zone around a local abortion clinic, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said he was concerned by the unjust measure.
The Ealing Council, which serves the west London borough, voted April 10 to enforce a Public Space Protection Order, which effectively bans public prayer and counselors who assist women within 100 meters of the Marie Stopes clinic, a leading abortion provider in London which performs around 7,000 abortions annually.
“I am deeply concerned about the imposition of ‘no-prayer zones’ around clinics where abortions take place,” Bishop Egan said April 18.
“To remove from the environment of the abortion clinics alternative voices is to limit freedom of choice. Indeed, research shows that many women have been grateful for the last-minute support they have thereby received,” Egan continued.
The Portsmouth bishop went on to call the ruling “disrespectful to vulnerable women,” who can be gravely harmed by an abortion procedure. He also lamented the removal of peaceful prayer near the abortion clinics, which he called crucial for women considering abortions or who have experienced abortions.
“…prayer is crucial: for forgiveness, for healing, for reparation, for the dear mothers and fathers involved, for the safety and protection of the unborn child and for the conversion of the medical staff who are complicit,” Egan said.
Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster also expressed his dismay in February over the buffer zone before it was passed, noting that buffer zones come with the danger of “denying freedom of expression and fostering intolerance toward legitimate opinions which promote the common good.”
“It should not be necessary to limit the freedom of individuals or groups to express opinions…” Sherrington continued.
The buffer zone was originally sought after by the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in response to members of the Good Counsel Network, a pro-life group, who prayed and offered counseling outside its clinic. Marie Stopes made claims that the counselors and those praying harassed and intimidated the women seeking abortions.
The recent ruling was applauded by members of the London abortion clinic. Richard Bentley, managing director of Marie Stopes UK, called the measure a “landmark decision for women.”
Bentley also noted that other councils around the UK were looking into similar measures around abortion clinics.
However, the Good Counsel Network denied the allegations of harassment, noting that their organization has aided over 1,000 women in the past six years outside of abortion clinics.
“I am dismayed, but not surprised, by Ealing Council’s decision to ban offers of help outside the abortion center here,” said Elizabeth Howard of the Good Counsel Network, according to the Catholic Sentinel.
“Hundreds of women over the years have accepted help and are grateful for the chance to keep their babies,” Howard continued, saying the ruling will “harm vulnerable women who need our assistance.”
The buffer zone will be legally enforced starting April 23, and offenders against the ruling could be fined or prosecuted under the ordinance. Some pro-life groups are expected to challenge the decision of the council in the coming months.
“The imposition of ‘no-prayer zones’ outside clinics — I mean prayerful vigil, not militant or disruptive action — is unhelpful, unjust and unnecessary,” Egan said.