'Totalitarian' Pressure on Pro-Life Demos

'Totalitarian' Pressure on Pro-Life Demos

The move to outlaw peaceful Christian witness and support for pregnant women outside abortion mills is totalitarianism of "breathtaking magnitude", the House of Lords heard during the latest debate on Clause 9.

Baroness Nuala O’Loan described Clause 9 in its current form as unworkable. Speaking in a measured and moderate tone in the UK Parliament's second chamber, she presented the grave implications of it becoming law.

“We do not live in a totalitarian state which arbitrarily removes the right of freedom of expression, yet what we have in Clause 9 is a total silencing of freedom of expression, within a fairly extensive and arbitrary limit around a range of facilities, with no consideration of other buildings that may exist in the vicinity of an abortion clinic. The overreach of Clause 9 is of breathtaking magnitude.”

Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill, which threatens pro-life demonstrators with fines and imprisonment and even outlaws silent prayer, was again strongly criticised when it was debated in the House of Lords, on Tuesday 22nd November, on the second of two days set aside for the Bill’s committee stage.

Concerns over the draconian nature of the proposal were raised not only by pro-life members of the House but by abortion advocates disturbed by the implications it held for freedom of speech and the right to peaceful protest.

Baroness Claire Fox, a “long-standing pro-choice campaigner” who has tabled several amendments to Clause 9, highlighted the vague but sweeping nature of the proposal. She argued that the “most contentious aspects of the clause centre on the definition of [the phrase] ‘interfering with’, which criminalises a wide range of activities usually associated with free speech and the right to assemble.”

She went on to warn the House of its dangers:

“We must resist the temptation to create a law that criminalises otherwise legal activities based on a distaste for those activities. How the Bill defines ‘interferes with’ will make an extraordinary range of activities in a particular area punishable by lengthy stints in prison or unlimited fines.”

She concluded by saying that: “The problem with Clause 9 is that it is redundant on this basis because safe access to abortion services is not threatened by people gathering outside.”

Baroness Kate Hoey also criticised the “vague and ambiguous” language in the clause. She argued that it is “so broadly worded that it can mean anything to anyone”.

At the end of the debate, none of the amendments to Clause 9 were put to a vote. Baroness Fox explained: “I will withdraw my amendment now, but I think that I will be back …to ensure that the intentions of those responsible for Clause 9 do not actually damage civil liberties in this country.”

The Bill is scheduled to be back in the Lords for the report stage in January next year. Pro-lifers should write to Peers urging them to reject this shockingly illiberal and anti-life clause.