Pro-life group launches legal action over abortion clinic censorship zones

A pro-life group is taking legal action against Birmingham City Council over a buffer zone making it a crime to pray outside a local abortion clinic.

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) was brought in in September and prohibits prayer, counselling and providing information and support to women in the vicinity of a city clinic run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Group.

Breaching the PSPO could result in a six-month prison sentence.

For the last two years, members of 40 Days for Life Birmingham have regularly prayed and offered help and alternatives to abortion outside the clinic.

Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, leader of 40 Days for Life Birmingham, said that the police and local council have done little to protect the group's members from threats, theft, harassment, assault and anti-Christian abuse.

Supported by the Christian Legal Centre (CLC), the group is pursuing a statutory review of the introduction of the PSPO.

Lawyers for Miss Vaughan-Spruce will argue that the council exceeded its powers, and that the PSPO is disproportionate and wrongly prohibits peaceful and lawful behaviour. 

Miss Vaughan-Spruce said that many women appreciated finding out what help is available.

"Through this action I am not asking for anyone to agree with what 40 Days believes; others have the right to disagree. However, I am asking for justice to be upheld despite our differences in belief," she said. 

"We have continued to come outside the Robert Clinic, not because we enjoy it, but because it is part of the way that we live out our Christian faith in ensuring that those considering abortion have real alternatives presented to them."

She continued, "Those providing real help for women at their time of crisis have been hounded out of the area, local bullies have been encouraged and peaceful prayer for those considering abortion, in an area right next to a Catholic Church, is now considered to be illegal.

"An offer of help outside the abortion centre is one of the few lifelines left to those feeling coerced, isolated, fearful or pushed into having an abortion due to their difficult circumstances.

"We are determined to seek justice and for our voice and concerns to be heard and not unlawfully suppressed."

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams said that pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics were "one of the few lifelines" available to women feeling helpless or coerced into an abortion.

"There is no evidence whatsoever to show that anyone is being harassed outside abortion clinics. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the abortion supporters who intimidate and harass and do not permit any dissenting viewpoint," she said. 

"40 Days for Life offers women and their babies one last chance to make a different choice – a choice for life. What kind of world are we living in when even that is being denied to them?

"Buffer zones are an oppressive part of the current culture which force consent and silence dissent. The saddest thing of all is that we are actually talking about human lives.

"We stand with 40 Days for Life as they seek justice in this case. We call on MPs and the government to halt the introduction of repressive and draconian buffer zones across the UK."