Last week on the Daily Politics show, Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing who has been openly encouraging the pro-choice group, Sister Supporter, appeared to waver slightly on her stance.
When it was pointed out to her that it was in fact the pro-choice group Sister Supporter who have been turning the clinic vigils into something of a circus, Ms Huq responded as follows in relation to the protestors, “Clear them all” and “I would like to keep these pavements a safer space and clear of protestors from whatever side”.
I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not Anna Vegilo-White might not have seen that as something of a betrayal coming from the MP who has supported and encouraged her group . Ms Huq appeared to be saying that they were all as bad as each other.
The point made by Clare McCullough, one of the founders of the Good Counsel Network was a valid one. Until the emergence of Sister Supporter about a year ago, there had never previously been any complaints of nuisance by the local residents.
The vigil consists of a handful of mainly elderly people, on the green across the road from the abortion facility, who quietly pray the rosary. They have a couple of signs, one of the Virgin Mary, one a nice picture of a baby in utero, and another which invites women to approach them if they are in need of any assistance. Slightly more controversially, placed on the ground in front of them are three models of plastic foetuses, all anatomically correct and in proportion, corresponding to different stages in pregnancy. One volunteer stands near the clinic entrance offering passers-by a leaflet, which they are free to accept or decline.
If there was harassment of the nature alleged by Sister Supporter and Marie Stopes, including that which stops women and supposedly staff, from entering and leaving the clinic, then existing legislation, such as the Public Order Act, which has been successfully used to prosecute anti-vivisectionist and animal rights campaigners, would already have been used. In an age where the camera phone is ubiquitous and the clinic has two cameras permanently trained upon the vigil, why has there been no footage released of women being harassed, shouted at, abused and even, as Pam Lowe attempted to claim on BBC1’s Sunday Morning Live, having what she sincerely hoped was, holy water, thrown over them. A particularly vicious lie.
The fact is that no criminal prosecution or even arrests have taken place, because no criminal activity has occurred. The Public Space Protection Order, which Ealing Borough Council hopes to impose will criminalise the activities of those on the vigil. Activity, which could arguably be defined as freedom of speech and the right to protest, which is covered by sections 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act.
Every Saturday, Sister Supporter and their pro-choice rentamob (consisting of an existing London network of pro-choice supporters), pitch up wearing pink high vis jackets, brandishing megaphones and boomboxes and attempt to disrupt the prayer vigil. They sing erudite songs of female emancipation such as Abba’s totemic ‘Dancing Queen’, before tailing off and launching into other classics, such as ‘If you like Pina Colada’. Let’s be honest, it’s about the only pain relief that’s going to be on offer inside a Marie Stopes, according to the recent findings of the CQC.
I’ve blogged about the antics of Sister Supporter before, but they have happily disrupted a peaceful religious procession which departs from Ealing Abbey every Saturday and also attempted to prevent Mass-goers from leaving the building. Their aim is to put as much pressure as possible on the abbey in order that they will then discourage Catholics from participating in any kind of pro-life activity in public. It seems that Sister Supporter aren’t very tolerant when it comes to religious freedom.
As Clare McCullough pointed out on a number of different media, it’s actually far worse for women entering the abortion clinic to be faced with a confrontational throng and an atmosphere of hostility, where they can’t tell who is who, rather than one single person, offering them a leaflet.
Back to Rupa Huq and today in the House of Commons, Ms Huq raised a question about the proposed PSPO in Ealing and whether or not these can be extended across the country, to which Conservative in name only, Amber Rudd appeared to signal her agreement. As part of her question Rupa alluded to the pro-choice demonstrators who have for the past year been creating a situation of hostility and chaos outside the abortion facility, making it very difficult for the general public to pass. (Unlike our quiet rosary prayers who stand on the grass).
It’s clear then, that Rupa Huq sees both sides as a nuisance and equally vexatious. Which begs the question, why does she regularly join in and lead the protestors such as she did this weekend, the day AFTER she had called for them all to be cleared on the Daily Politics show.
And riddle me this. Why then this morning, did Marie Stopes have to ask a group of pro-choice students from a local university not to film their clients as they entered the clinic? Did Marie Stopes note this pro-choice harassment in their log book? Did they film the pro-choice students filming? You can bet your life that had this been pro-lifers the footage would have been all over social media quick sharp complete with obligatory rosaries and ovaries hashtag.
A cynic would suggest that the new pro-choice tactic is indeed to cause as much disruption outside of the clinics as possible in order to get everyone tarred with the same brush and banned as swiftly as possible. No more women helped to choose life for their baby outside of the clinic and no awkward visible reminders of the humanity of the child whose life is at stake. How very convenient.
For the past 22 years a quiet pro-life vigil has taken place outside the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing, a vigil which, until the past couple of years went unnoticed. The police have been aware of the vigil since its inception and in 22 years there has not been a single arrest or charge laid against any of those attending.
What happens at this vigil is the usual type of thing – pro-life groups stand on the other side of the green, across the pavement from the clinic, praying for all inside, the pregnant women, their unborn children along with the staff themselves.
Pro-choice feminist protesters largely ignored what was going on in the quiet suburbs of Ealing largely because of its location. Ealing isn’t as easy to travel to as Bedford Square in central London, where up until 2013, BPAS operated a clinic which was previously the flashpoint in the abortion culture wars.
In fact the location of the Ealing clinic is fairly typical. Like the Marie Stopes facility in Buckhurst Hill, Essex, it is on the outskirts of London, in a picturesque converted suburban building with a discreet plaque, designed to look very attractive from the outside, blend in with the local community and distract from the horror within. Here’s a video of 40 Days for Life director Robert Colquhoun outlining the Christian history of the building.
When I look back on my own experience of abortion, one of the many surreal moments was sitting in a beautiful high-ceiling room complete with ornate coving, elegant light-fittings and all-round exquisite decor while partaking of a selection of delicious sandwiches from a local delicatessan, laid on for women who had just taken the first of two doses of pills to bring about an abortion. It felt bizarre sitting there with a group of women all of whom were studiously avoiding eye-contact with each other or alternatively making superficial conversation like a scene from a period drama, while we were all there for the same reason. It’s one of the aspects which still haunts me. I sat there, in terribly salubrious surroundings, stuffing my face with cucumber sandwiches to alleviate the boredom and unease during the prescribed waiting time, while inside me the child was being slowly poisoned to death.
Marie Stopes had warned us in the literature that protestors may be outside both the central London clinic that I attended for the initial consultation and also the one in Buckhurst Hill, but there wasn’t a protestor to be seen, much to my chagrin. I’ve written about this before, but inside, I was aching for a fight and for someone, somewhere, to challenge me.
Despite the fact that the Good Counsel Network have been conducting vigil clinics for 20 years in the UK, (and other groups for longer) it was only since the arrival of 40DaysforLife in the UK, in 2011, that suddenly clinic vigils became an issue and burst into public consciousness, because clearly the abortion clinics don’t like them very much and they are able to swiftly harness and tap into the support of both pro-choice MPs and mainstream media.
The tactics of those who attend the vigils have never altered. Contrary to popular myth, they do not block the entrances of clinics, they do not follow women down the street, they don’t video women and they certainly don’t shout abuse at them. They stand quietly, a respectful distance away, carrying signs with offers of help and praying. One counselor stands slightly nearer offering passers-by a leaflet.
Groups such as the Good Counsel Network and 40 Days for Life often get conflated with Abort 67, who display large banners of aborted foetuses outside clinics. Abort 67’s focus is not about prayer, but educating the public to the realities of abortion and they don’t just stand outside clinics but also in other public places, such as Speakers Corner in Hyde Park or outside the Department of Health.
In the age where smartphones are ubiquitous and where the abortion clinics have stationed cameras outside their facilities, not a shred of pictorial or video evidence has ever emerged to support the smears of harassment or intimidation by pro-life groups that do the rounds on social media. Andy Stephenson, the leader of Abort 67 was prosecuted, but the case collapsed. What Abort 67 do have, is cameras around their necks, strapped to their chests, to protect themselves against allegations of harassment and intimidation. So far the only footage to emerge is of members of the public challenging and threatening them, to the great acclaim of the public.
So anyway, back to Ealing where the pro-life vigil has taken place without incident for the past 22 years. The pro-lifers turn up every day, pray, give out leaflets, offer support and go home. Enraged by this, a group of pro-choice women calling themselves Sister Supporter have decided to pitch up every Saturday and put in a counter protest. They have been joined on occasion by Rupa Huq, the local MP for Ealing, who has decided to join this feminist cause celebre.
Pro-Lifers, including Ms Huq’s own constituents have invited her many times to engage with the women, many of whom are immigrants or from ethnic minorities and who, as a result of the help and support given by the pro-life groups, have chosen not to abort their babies. These are pregnant women who approached the pro-lifers wary of their claims that they would really be able to help and found themselves given significant financial and other practical assistance for as long they needed it. Women who did not qualify for any assistance or who would be presented by a bill by the NHS if they approached them for maternity care. In fact the only ‘choice’ that they were being given, was that of a free abortion. These are women are of all faiths and none who feel so empowered by the help that they were offered that they now join in the vigils, complete with infants in puschairs in an attempt to persuade others that there is another way. Ms Huq, has to date, refused to engage.
Pro-lifers accept that they cannot have it both ways. A free and democratic society which affords them the right to ‘protest’ (although they would dispute that their prayer vigils and offers of assistance are in any way a protest), also confers identical rights to those on the pro-choice side of the debate.
But at what stage does this cross a line? Yesterday, a local group, calling themselves “Sister Supporter” posted triumphantly on their Facebook page, that they had disrupted pro-life activities at the nearby Ealing Abbey. The logic behind this being that many of those who attend the pro-life vigils attend Mass at Ealing Abbey. So in the twisted minds of Sister Supporter, this makes everyone who attends church there, accountable and a potential target for punitive action. The old guilt by association fallacy.
Sister Supporter gleefully reported that they stood on the doorstep of Ealing Abbey, with the deliberate intent of intimidating church-goers, in order that they might experience how it feels. Despite the fact that those on a pro-life vigil, stand on the other side of the green across the pavement and do not block the doorway of the abortion clinic or obstruct anyone from entering or leaving. They then attacked church attenders for ‘sneakily’ using the rear entrance in order to avoid them.
Not content with their acknowledged intimidation of people attending church, Sister Supporter said that they weren’t going to let the people leave ‘without a fight’. A religious pro-life procession was leaving the church, so this group ‘sprinted in front of them’, blocking the huge icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary being peacefully processed around the streets, with aggressive pro-choice and anti-Catholic inflammatory placards.
Judging from the photos, only a handful of protestors were present at this stage, compared to those who blockaded the church and later stood outside the clinic adjacent to the pro-life vigil, but here we have a group of people who, by their own admission were out to ‘intimidate’ religious believers by way of ‘retribution’. Firstly the aim of those on pro-life vigils is never to intimidate, but secondly, didn’t anyone ever teach these people that two wrongs don’t make a right? One of the pro-life counsellors on the vigil said that last week a ‘Sister Supporter’ tried jumping up and down in front of her, when she was handing a leaflet to a woman, admitting that her conduct amounted to harassment. “Yes, it is harassment” she cried, “now you know what it feels like!”
Also, how is expressly setting out to intimidate and blockade a group of people on account of their religious beliefs, not a hate crime or at the very least, a breach of the Public Order Act? How is this any different to those who would nail a slice of bacon to a mosque door? The procession which took place is purely religious procession and organisers tell me that there are no pro-life placards or slogans on display. I do hope that the Metropolitan police take note. Apparently last week, these women screamed Lily Allen’s “F*** You very very much” while people were praying stations of the cross.
Other points to note. Sister Supporter claim to have been set up by a ‘concerned local’ in many of their posts and back-stories, however when I attempted to comment on their post, my comments were instantaneously removed, accompanied by the comments that I am a ‘known homophobe who has upset one too many of my friends to be able to be given a platform here’. Which would indicate pro-choice activists, the same ones who organized outside Bedford Square a few years ago and who were befriended by the usual motley gang of trolls, as opposed to an impromptu group of concerned local residents. They are also snowflakes if they can’t cope with a couple of perfectly civil questions or observations.
One of the questions I asked was why the comments in the thread used photographs of clinic protests that took place in America, not the UK, to justify their actions. Photographs which were subsequently removed, along with every comment which questioned their protest. Every single photograph I have seen of the Ealing protest depicts people standing a decent and respectable distance away. The imagery which is displayed is not that of aborted foetuses, but consists of 6 A4 laminated posters with images of unborn babies, which Sister Supporter has referred to as being ‘distressing and gross’.
Other posts mocked the attire of the pro-life women for wearing ‘long skirts and anoraks’. Shaming women for what they wear doesn’t seem to be very feminist. Unlike the recent anti-Trump demonstrations in which children were actively invited to participate, being exposed to foul language and filthy imagery, Sister Supporter ask that women do not bring their children along to their clinic protests. They don’t want to upset the clients inside. Although one might ask what the presence of children is related to a ‘non-human blob of tissue’ which is supposedly part of a woman’s body? A cynic might note that clients at Marie Stopes are far more likely to be irritated by a group of middle-class women belting out eighties music at the top of their lungs while they are having an abortion, than a few toddlers and children. One regular choice is “Give me all your money, all your hugs and kisses too” . Gallows humour suggests that this is grimly appropriate for a clinic charging about £700 for each woman’s baby they abort.
A regular pro-life attendee at Ealing chuckles recounting that “one Saturday they were supporting women by singing, or rather ‘singing’ half-remembered lyrics of ‘Dancing Queen’ and ‘If you like Pina Colada’. The latter was mostly ‘Yes I like Pina Colada, and getting caught in the rain. Yes I like making love at midnight…mumble mumble giggle’. While Dancing Queen was rendered ‘Dancing Queen, young and sweet only 17, ooo yeah, before tapering off into a slightly awkward ‘la la la”. There was also the woman who kept barking ‘she’ll be respecting women when she comes’, to the tune of ‘Coming Round the Mountain’. It’s like watching a drunk uncle do karaoke at a funeral.” Quite. Don’t woman deserve better. It’s no surprise that it’s actually this pink pantomime deterring women from attending Marie Stopes Ealing, (whose staff members egg on and encourage the pro-choice contingent) and why they want pro-lifers banned. Fewer women having an abortion can not be allowed to continue.
Another regular attendee at Ealing reports this. “I have spoken to many ‘Sister Supporters’ outside the clinic. I asked them how they feel about those women for whom abortion is a matter of “no choice”
Some of them refused to believe that such women exist.
One openly mocked the story I told her of two women I know who had not wanted to have the abortion they were seeking and were helped to keep their babies by the GCN and who are mothers of lovely daughters now. She repeated in a sing song voice “and they all lived happily ever after…not”
So much for “pro choice”.
Another one kept interjecting when I was talking to three young Sister Supporters, repeatedly saying “Don’t talk to her, she’s a plant”.
Neither Sister Supporter, nor the clinics appear to be reaching out to women who feel so pressurised that they have no other choice than to abort. Women with no employment rights, no rights to benefits and no rights to obstetric care. These are women who are facing destitution if they have a baby, but whose plight Sister Supporter prefers to ignore and pretend they are invisible.
No doubt these women will be outraged to learn that so far during Lent, 17 (hopefully soon to be 18) woman have decided not to abort their babies and will mutter about manipulation. Women being persuaded to keep their babies rather than aborting them? That’s not the kind of choice which interests them, nor it would seem the general public, who prefer fake news when it comes to persecuted women.