By: Jo Siedlecka
Pro-life campaigners have expressed their shock after Ealing Council in west London voted unanimously last night to look into setting up a Public Spaces Protection Order around the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane. The issue was discussed after more than 3,500 people signed a petition put forward by the Sisters Support campaign, calling for anti-abortion vigils to be moved to at least a distance of 100m from the clinic "to eliminate discrimination, harassment and victimisation of women."
The petition claims "sustained intimidation and presence outside the clinic not only causes great distress to patients, but has a persistent detrimental effect on people living, working in and visiting the Walpole ward."
Claire McCulloch from the Good Council Network denied that her group had ever harassed women visiting the clinic. She told ICN: "We've never heard of any incident. We've been involved in the vigil for more than 20 years and we have a very tight code of practice. We have helped hundreds of women over the years." She said that each year the group has spoken with around 300 women and managed to 'turn around' up to 100 a year.
Claire said that the Sister Support group which started arriving recently had been very disruptive "playing loud 80s pop music." "One person actually grabbed a leaflet we were trying to give to a woman as she went into the clinic," she said.
On their website, The Good Council Network offers: "free pregnancy test, free advice, medical information, practical help and moral support to women seeking abortion. We reach out to women seeking abortion who have not been informed about the risks to their physical and psychological health and who have not been presented with realistic alternatives to abortion. We deal with the hardest cases of crisis pregnancy every day….
"Our work involves the simple befriending of women and educating them about abortion and the humanity of their child, which is done through excellent literature and videos. Then we speak to them about God's plan for them and their child. Finally we offer women practical help and moral support which they may need to keep their child, from accommodation and financial help, baby clothes and nappies, to friendship ongoing support, advice and planning for the future. Staff at The Good Counsel Network offer their time and work to Jesus through Mary."
Claire told ICN that the Good Council Network hold their vigil from Monday to Friday from 8.30am to 4pm. The SSPX attend on Friday afternoons and Helpers of Gods Precious Infants also take part occasionally.
Claire said she was very concerned that Ealing Council had not allowed them to put forward any evidence last night - however a council spokesman told ICN the remit of the discussion was just to consider the petition.
"Before the council considers setting up a Public Spaces Protection Order, there is going to be a public consultation, with more research into all the groups involved," he explained. A decision will be made in about eight weeks.
The Good Council Network is seeking legal advice and plans to continue the vigil for the time being.
For more information about the Good Council Network, see: www.goodcounselnet.co.uk/About-Good-Counsel.html
See a video of the vigil on the Sister Support Facebook page: www.facebook.com/SisterSupporter/videos/vb.1495422830759303/1728429617458622/?type=2&theater