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Monday, 30 July 2012

What m*r*e stopes fears most about our Vigils, in their own words: "baby pink and blue rosary beads"

Eddie and a fellow vigil keeper. Not filming anyone, harassing anyone, shouting at anyone, running after anyone or even cuddling anyone - just another normal day of loving women in trouble and their babies by offering them support and help.
Well since everyone is talking about it here and here and here, we may as well blog about it ourselves! Please consider making a donation to the excellent work of the Thomas More Legal Centre here, they kindly acted on our behalf free of charge.
Have a read of m*r*e stopes letter below, and note how similar the accusations they have thrown at us and those BPAS threw at 40 Days for Life and are now throwing at Abort67.
Re the camera and filming accusations, we DO NOT film the women at the vigil and have not in the past, and although we have taken pictures of the abortuary, we have always avoided doing so when women are entering. However, we do reserve the right to film the vigil itself to protect our staff and volunteers from the kind of false accusations made in this letter. Even if we do so, we still will avoid filming the women going in, if for no other reason than the fact that our whole aim is to offer them help and support. Not harrass them, scare them, humiliate them or judge them. For the most part we find that they have experienced rather a lot of this type of treatment by others already. And we don't think filming them would be very conducive to getting them to consider an offer of support!
From the solicitors of m*r*e stopes:

16th July 2012

Dear Sirs

Re: Protests outside of Marie Stopes international centres

We represent Marie Stopes International (MSI).
We have been asked to write to you in connection with the
ongoing activities of protestors affiliated with your organisation who protest
regularly outside of MSI’s centres. We have set out below our client’s concerns
in relation to such activities. Whilst MSI acknowledges your organisation’s
(and that of its members) right to protest, we strongly urge you to consider
how such protests may be conducted respectfully and without potentially
infringing the law and breaching MSI’s rights and those of its clients.
Approaching MSI’s clients

We understand that protestors have engaged in various acts
or conduct including shouted ‘Don’t
apologise just leave!’ or used
similar vocabulary at MSI’s clients, have approached clients with plastic
foetus’ asking the client to pray for the foetus, have attempted to intimidate
clients by running up to them, have handed out baby pink and blue rosary beads,
and have handed out leaflets containing graphic images. We further understand
that on occasion, where a client has stopped in response to a protestor, the
client has been surrounded by protestors who have tried to ‘cuddle’ the client.
These activities have caused some of MSI’s clients immense distress. We further
understand that at least one client was physically injured whilst being pursued
by a protestor.
Section 3A of the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 (the
“Act”) provides for a civil right of action against harassment and allows one
to seek injunctive relief. Under the Act, a person must not pursue a course of
conduct which amounts to harassment of another and which he/she knows or ought
ot know amounts to harassment of the other. ‘Harassment’ includes a conduct
which causes distress. Our client is therefore concerned that some of your
activities may be in breach of the Act.
Filming MSI’s clients
We understand that protestors have filmed clients entering
and leaving MSI’s centres. Given that MSI’s clients state their names via the
intercom system upon entering the centre which can be heard by protestors
located by the entrance, the filming of MSI’s clients amounts to processing of
personal data. This activity can cause distress to MSI’s clients.

Section 10 of the Data Protection Act 1998 provides for a
right to prevent processing of personal data that causes distress. The
continued filming of MSI’s clients could force our client to seek a court order
to prevent a breach of the data protection rights of MSI’s clients.
Leaflets
It has further been brought to MSI’s attention that
protestors from your organisation distribute a leaflet entitled. “Pregnant...Worried?”
(the “leaflet”) which contains factually incorrect and/or misleading
information. The Leaflet claims that abortion can result in breast cancer,
disruption of the menstrual cycle and the inability to become pregnant in the
future. These claims are wholly unfounded. Likewise, the possible psychological
implications of abortion set out in the leaflet are also misleading.
MSI is entitled to make a complaint to the Advertising
Standards Authority on the basis that the information published in the leaflet
regarding the physical and psychological implications of abortion is
misleading, unsubstantiated and in some circumstances untrue.
We understand that your organisation has a right to protest
and our client recognises this right. The purpose of this letter is to inform
you of MSI’s concerns. Should your organisation or its members continue to
engage in activities which MSI considers unlawful, our client reserves the
right to seek all remedies as may be necessary, including injunctive relief.
Yours faithfully

Kirkland & Ellis International LLP

Our Reply, from Mr Neil Addison, of the Thomas More Legal Centre
Dear ...........
I am instructed on behalf of my client the Good Counsel Network (Good Counsel) to reply to your letter of 16th July sent on behalf of your client Marie Stopes International (MSI). I note at the outset that Good Counsel disagree with your description of their acts as being a "protest", it is rather a prayer vigil where Good Counsel pray for the unborn children daily killed by MSI and also for the mothers of those children. It is also an opportunity to offer women contemplating Abortion an alternative choice and is there to assist them in choosing to allow their child to live rather than be killed. Good Counsel offers counselling, practical help and moral support to women who are contemplating Abortion and also to women who have had Abortions and are suffering trauma afterwards. Ultimately the final decision is that of the mother of the child but Good Counsel, unlike MSI, does provide mothers with an alternative to Abortion. In any event whether called a prayer vigil or a protest the actions of Good Counsel are always carried out peacefully and lawfully and are protected under Common Law rights of peaceful assembly and under Articles 9, 10, 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights. With regard to the specific allegations made in your letter
APPROACHING MSI'S CLIENTS Good Counsel deny that they or any person associated with them has shouted at clients of MSI indeed to do so would be completely counter productive and contrary to the purpose of Good Counsel which is to reach out to and talk to women. Representatives of Good Counsel do not seek to intimidate anyone whether by running up to them or otherwise. Representatives of Good Counsel approach women with leaflets which offer help to women considering a decision which, we assume, MSI would agree is an important decision and not one to be made lightly or on the basis of inadequate information. They do have models of pre-born children which may be shown to women and which are useful in showing women the accurate developmental stage of their child. This is a valid part of any counseling which is committed to ensuring that pregnant women have accurate information before they make any irrevocable decision.Good Counsel do indeed have Rosary beads which are in both "baby pink and blue" to use the description in your letter, the colours being chosen in memory of the baby girls and baby boys killed daily by MSI. These Rosary beads are not forced upon anyone and possession and use of the Holy Rosary is a "manifestation of religion" protected under Article 9. Leaflets containing graphic, but accurate, images of abortion are kept by Good Counsel representatives but they are not handed out in an indiscriminate manner as is suggested in your letter. Such pictures are shown on a one to one basis when the Good Counsel representative is in discussion with someone about Abortion. The leaflets are only given to someone when they request a copy which is often done in order to show the images to someone else who is pressuring the woman to have an Abortion. This constitutes the "imparting of information" and as such is protected under Article 10. I note at this point that the information provided to representatives of Good Counsel is that women who take any leaflets provided by Good Counsel are having them taken off them by staff members of MSI even when the woman wants to retain the leaflet and read it. I am informed by my Client that in the last month at least 2 women who had their leaflets taken from them by MSI staff asked for further copies from Good Counsel representatives after leaving MSI premises. They then went on to accept the support offered by Good Counsel and decided to keep their babies as a result of the help they were offered. [my emphasis] This action by MSI staff is an interference with the Article 10 rights of these women to "receive information" so it would seem that MSI are interfering with the Human Rights of pregnant women as well as, of course, ending the Right to Life of unborn children. Good Counsel by contrast is upholding the Human Rights of pregnant women as well as the right to life of their unborn children.Good Counsel deny that they or anyone associated with them has surrounded MSI clients or attempted to "cuddle" them against their will so as to cause them distress. I note at this point that MSI has frequently called the Police in order to complain about the activities of Good Counsel but the Police once called have never found any evidence of wrong doing by Good Counsel. Had persons associated with Good Counsel been surrounding women or attempting to touch them against their will, as your letter alleges, then that would be conduct contrary to the Public Order Act and the Police would have taken action. The fact that the Police have not done so is indicative of the fact that this alleged harassment has not occurred.You state that one of MSI clients was physically injured by someone associated with Good Counsel. I assume that such a serious incident, if it has actually occurred, will have been reported to the Police as an Assault. Can I therefore please be provided with confirmation of the Police station to which the alleged assault was reported, the date it was reported and the Police Crime Incident number. If this alleged assault was not reported to the Police then why not, certainly Good Counsel are not aware of any injury or any allegations of injury being suffered by any client of MSI.
PROTECTION FROM HARASSMENT ACT s3A. We note your reference to this Act and its requirements however you have failed to mention the defences in the Act in particular s1(3)(c) "that in the particular circumstances the pursuit of the course of conduct was reasonable." As already mentioned Good Counsel is exercising Common Law rights of peaceful assembly and rights guaranteed under Articles 9, 10, 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights and as such its conduct is reasonable. I mention this defence without prejudice to the fact that Good Counsel deny that their vigil has caused harassment, alarm or distress or that any reasonable person would consider that the vigil amounts to harassment. In addition the allegations made by MSI do not reach the level of seriousness which the Courts in such cases as Majrowski v Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Trust [2006] UKHL 34 and Veakins v Kier Islington Ltd [2009] EWCA Civ 1288 have stated is required in order to justify either a Civil or a Criminal allegation of harassment.
FILMING MSI's CLIENTS Good Counsel categorically deny that they or anyone associated with them has filmed or photographed clients entering or leaving MSI's premises. Participants in a vigil have on occasions videoed themselves as part of the provision of information to supporters etc about the vigil but Good Counsel do not and have not filmed clients of MSI or processed their personal data contrary to the Data Protection Act. Good Counsel do however reserve the right to film their vigil in the future as evidence of the peaceful manner in which it is conducted and as a defence against unfounded and inaccurate allegations of the type made in your letter. They will of course continue with their existing policy of not filming MSI clients.
LEAFLETS If you wish to waste your time and MSI's money by referring Good Counsel's leaflets to the Advertising Standards Authority you are of course at liberty to do so. I would however make the point that it is your own case that these leaflets are distributed by protestors as part of a protest and it would be an extraordinary extension of the remit of the ASA if it were suddenly to assume that it had the right to vet information given out as part of a protest. I frankly regard this suggestion that you would refer the matter to the ASA as simply an attempt to intimidate Good Counsel by making a threat which you yourselves must know is legally fatuous.
In any event Good Counsel is prepared if necessary to defend before the ASA or a Court everything said in its leaflets the contents of which are based on solid scientific study and on the testimony and experience of many women who have had Abortions. Good Counsel and organisations like it deal daily with women suffering the physical and psychological effects of Abortion; effects which MSI attempts to ignore. Let us be blunt Marie Stopes International makes a great deal of money by persuading women to kill their unborn babies and makes no money if women decide to keep their babies. Marie Stopes International is by no stretch of the imagination a neutral and impartial voice on the physical and psychological effects of Abortion and has a substantial financial interest in trying to silence any person or organisation which questions the effect of, or provides alternative information about, Abortion. That is very clearly what they are trying to do with regard to the work of the Good Counsel Network.
We would also remind you, MSI, and if necessary the ASA or a Court of the words of Mr Justice Supperstone in the case of British Pregnancy Advisory Service v Secretary of State for Health [2011] EWHC 235 (Admin )
"Abortion remains a controversial subject in respect of which there are differing deeply-held views."
and also the words of Mr Justice Munby in Smeaton v Secretary of State for Health [2002] EWHC 610 (Admin)
"Our society, including the most thoughtful and concerned sections of our society, are deeply troubled by, and indeed deeply divided over, such issues [ie Abortion]. These are topics on which men and woman of different faiths, or indeed of no faith at all, may and do hold, passionately and with the utmost sincerity, starkly differing views. All of those views are entitled to the greatest respect but it is not for a judge to choose between them"
Should MSI decide to pursue any form of legal action against Good Counsel that action will be defended with vigour Should you wish to correspond further on this issue I would be obliged if those communications were sent to me, (contact details...)
I am authorised by my Client to receive service of any legal documents should MSI be ill advised enough to want to go down that route. Good Counsel reserve the right to publicise your original letter, this reply and any response from you.
Sincerely
Neil Addison
(Barrister)
Thomas More Legal Centre

2 comments:

  1. I'm not sure the "right to receive information" extends to the right to receive false information misleadingly presented as scientific facts. Did you not see the large-scale review published last year that showed that abortion does not negatively affect mental health?

    You are aware that MSI is a not-for-profit institution, aren't you? They don't make a penny of profit out of providing abortion services.

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  2. I am sure that you believe that to be the case, however we see hundreds of women annuually whose experience says otherwise. We also see many women who have had serious physical complications resulting from abortion, but who have never been back to the place that did the abortion to report them, and thus are not listed as abortion complications anywhere. I could refer you to many medical studies indicating physical or psychological complications of abortions ( see www.afterabortion.org ) but in my experience people who describe themselves as "pro-choice" will dismiss these without a though as they reject anything that does not support their own beliefs. Marie stopes don't make a profit? that is a joke isn't it. They use their profits to promote abortions worldwide, including to commit illegal abortions such as in Zambia where they have just been stopped from doing so. But many individuals in the company are on very fat salaries, and not so long ago Marie Stopes were criticised for offering staff bonuses for the numbers of abortions done. Anyway, if you think taking information from women - which also includes information about financial help, moral support, housing, and so on from women who are often not entitled to this help from any other source - is acceptable, I don't think you and I will ever come to agreement on any point.

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