- Second London censorship zone around abortion facility subject to legal challenge
- Ban on prayer and offers of support “far beyond what is reasonable or proportionate”
LONDON (23 May 2019) – Richmond Council has been taken to court over a controversial Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) introduced around an abortion facility in Twickenham. The censorship zone has banned prayer, offers of support and peaceful protest outside the facility.
“Even while a similar legal challenge is before the Court of Appeal, another Council has attempted to bring in an incredibly broad Public Spaces Protection Order criminalising free speech and peaceful protest. It too has been met with a legal challenge. While the orders are intended to address anti-social behaviour, those in both Ealing and Richmond go far beyond that, and far beyond what could be considered reasonable or proportionate – banning even a simple offer of assistance. Again, Richmond has ignored the evidence that hundreds of women have been provided with practical help and support by pro-life volunteers outside abortion facilities. Local councils and the police have a broad range of existing powers to deal with any unlawful behavior. If we set a precedent that councils can start censoring speech with which they disagree, there is no logical stopping point,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International.
Second censorship zone in the London area
The Richmond censorship zone criminalises “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval…with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means, including, without limitation, graphic, verbal or written means, and including…any form of counselling or interaction with…BPAS clients or members of staff on the street.” It also explicitly outlaws prayer – even silent prayer – concerning abortion. A crowdfunding appeal to cover the costs of the legal challenge raised over £10,000 in one week
Richmond’s Public Space Protection Order comes in the wake of the Home Secretary’s announcement that it would be disproportionate to introduce censorship zones on a national level last September. These censorship zones particularly target pro-life groups who offer help and support to pregnant women who want to keep their babies. The first censorship zone introduced by Ealing is being challenged by Alina Dulgheriu, a mother who was able to keep her baby after accepting support from the Good Counsel Network on her way to an abortion appointment. Ealing’s order was initially upheld by the High Court but now faces review by the Court of Appeal in July.
“Freedom of speech is the foundation of every free and democratic society. This PSPO ignores the real experience of hundreds of women and is entirely disproportionate. It is a violation of freedom of speech, the importance of which has been so often reiterated by the European Court of Human Rights, especially when it comes to controversial topics like abortion. By criminalising offers of help, Richmond Council has removed the only real choice women have in the name of ‘choice,’” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.