Mothers against the ban on help outside abortion centres – Be Here for Me group gives briefing in Leinster House

“A caring society doesn’t criminalise people for
offering help to vulnerable mothers”- Alina Dulgheriu

‘Exclusion Zones’ would set dangerous precedent for curbing freedom of speech – Carol Nolan TD

Alina Dulgheriu from the London based group ‘Be Here for Me’ told members of the Oireachtas today that “a just and caring society doesn’t criminalise people for offering help to vulnerable mothers.” She was addressing a meeting hosted by the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group on the government’s plan to introduce ‘exclusion zones’ outside abortion facilities in Ireland.

Ms Dulgheriu said she owes the life of her daughter to a pro-life person she met outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing, London. From her personal experience, she is opposed to ‘exclusion zones’ outside abortion clinics. And in a recent high-profile case, she was granted leave by the Court of Appeal in London to challenge an order of Ealing Council criminalising pro-life vigils close to the abortion clinic where she almost aborted her daughter.

She told Oireachtas members today: “The day I made my way to the abortion facility was the darkest day my heart has ever known. I knew that there was no help, no support during my pregnancy. All I needed was help until I gave birth. A lady and a leaflet. That’s all it took. Right there at the steps of abortion centre. This lady was offering unconditional help during my pregnancy and wanted nothing in return just for me to make the right decision in a desperate situation.

“From all that darkness, at last I felt hope, I felt for the first time that my child was wanted, not only by me, but also by complete strangers. For the first time, I felt that I was not walking alone on the day I was meant to end the life within me – my child. I cannot express the joy and how fulfilled I felt as a woman, as a mother, to be given the chance to have my child.”

She told today’s meeting: “Expectant mothers should have all of the information, resources and emotional support that they need during their pregnancy – especially an unexpected pregnancy. A just and caring society doesn’t criminalise people for offering help to vulnerable mothers.”

And she took issue with the recent decision of Ealing Council in London to introduce exclusion zones near the local abortion clinic, saying: “That is not protecting women – it is removing their choices. Women are smart. Women should have all the information that they need when making life changing decisions, including the information that abortion facilities don’t want them to have. I would have never imagined such incredible support would be available to me outside of an abortion centre, but there it was, offered by a kind lady who faced all kinds of horrible abuse from people who say that they are ‘pro-choice’.”

Elizabeth Howard, who has taken part in several pro-life vigils outside the Ealing clinic, told the meeting in Leinster House:

“There are hundreds of women in similar circumstances to Alina who make their way to abortion centres in the UK every year desperately looking for alternatives. While many assume that vigils exist to aggressively deter people from having abortions, the reality is that they gently provide an incredible line of support to vulnerable women who need it the most. People who have spent time observing vigils know this to be true, and yet in the name of ‘choice’ this vital support is being suppressed by ‘buffer zones’. Councils in the UK introducing ‘buffer zones’ have ignored the testimonies of women who have received support because they are highly inconvenient. They have resorted to unnecessary and disproportionate measures that fail to distinguish between obstructive and charitable behaviour, and ultimately it is the most vulnerable women who suffer the most. Stories involving a trip to an abortion centre rarely have a happy ending, and yet for Alina and many others encountering pro-life vigils, they are met with unexpected hope. I hope that politicians in Ireland will listen to the stories of these incredibly brave women and ensure that this help and support can be made available in the same way in Ireland to those women who will need it most.”

Carol Nolan TD, who chaired today’s meeting of the Human Dignity Group, said: “Introducing exclusion zones in Ireland would create a very dangerous precedent for denying freedom of speech and the right to peacefully assemble or protest in public areas. Creating these no-go areas would be a wholly disproportionate response from the government to the risk that a tiny number of people may at some point in the future engage in harassing or intimidating behaviour close to a clinic.”

She said: “No one wants to see any woman feeling harassed or intimidated by anyone when approaching a hospital or GP surgery. Were real harassment to occur, the authorities in Ireland already have wide-ranging powers to deal with the situation under existing law. But for the government to seize on one or two incidents and blow them out of all proportion is no way to introduce public policy. Depicting every pro-life action as ‘threatening’ or ‘rogue’ as some members of government do, is outrageous. It shows how blinkered, political and unbalanced government policy has become in this area.”

Deputy Nolan said “as the amazing testimonies of members of ‘Be Here for Me’ highlight, many women who go for abortion are conflicted and/or feel pressure to do so. The new law in Ireland operates in a way where every abortion request is fast tracked without any attempt being made to inform women of the social supports and alternatives to abortion that are out there. Placing a bolt on every door to deny women the opportunity to access this kind of information is neither pro-woman nor pro-choice.”

“The government is fully aware that exclusion zones like the ones being proposed do not exist throughout Europe or in most parts of the world. The planned legislation is more about creating a distorted impression about the kind of pro-life outreach that might occur rather than about genuine concern for the welfare of women. We owe it to women and their unborn babies not to play politics with this issue. The government should do the honourable thing and scrap its planned new law in this area,” Deputy Nolan said.

Ben Fullbrook, an English barrister who helped to bring a challenge against the first exclusion zone at an abortion clinic in England told members of the Oireachtas about the significant human rights implications of ‘exclusion zone’ legislation and his view that a blanket ban on vigils outside abortion clinics would be unlawful.

ENDS

For more information contact the Oireachtas Human Dignity Group on 087 244 6911