LONDON - The Court of Appeal of England and Wales is hearing a challenge Tuesday and Wednesday to a buffer zone banning pro-life gatherings and speech near a London abortion clinic.
Three judges of the appellate court are hearing Dulgheriu and Orthova v. London Borough of Ealing July 16-17.
In April 2018, Ealing council passed a public space protection order that effectively bans public prayer and counselors who assist women within 330 feet of the Marie Stopes UK West London Centre, a leading abortion provider in London which performs around 7,000 abortions annually.
The PSPO was challenged by Alina Dulgheriu, who chose to forgo an abortion at the Ealing clinic after being offered pro-life support and who is now regularly involved in vigils run by the Good Counsel Network outside the clinic, and Andrea Orthova.
The High Court of England and Wales upheld the buffer zone in a July 2018 decision. While Justice Turner found that the ban interfered with the human rights of pro-life protesters, he ruled that the local government had a right to decide it was a “necessary step in a democratic society."
Dulgheriu and Orthova are appealing that decision, arguing that the PSPO unlawfully interferes with their right to freedom of expression under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Press Association reported.
Dulgheriu told CNA soon after the High Courts decision that clinics like that in Ealing do not offer women any alternatives to abortion. She said her efforts to see the buffer zones overturned are as much for the protection of mothers as for children.
“If the vigils are removed – who will look out for the mothers who desperately do not want to go ahead with an abortion? These mothers can be in very vulnerable circumstances, sometimes in abusive relationships, and vigils can offer them housing and refuge that abortion clinics could never provide,” she said.
Shortly after the Ealing PSPO was passed, Bishop Philip Egan of Portsmouth said that “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.”
In September 2018, British Home Secretary Sajid Javid rejected proposals for buffer zones around abortion clinics throughout England and Wales as disproportionate, after finding that most abortion protests are peaceful and passive.
Javid said that after reviewing the evidence, which included “upsetting examples of harassment … what is clear from the evidence we gathered is that these activities are not the norm, and predominantly, anti-abortion activities are more passive in nature.”
The typical activities of those protesting outside of abortion clinics “include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets,” Javid noted.
Furthermore, he noted that in 2017, only 36 of the 363 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales that offer abortions have experienced pro-life demonstrations near their facilities.