A District Judge in the United Kingdom has upheld a community protection notice barring a pro-life advocate from using images of aborted children in public protests.
On Wednesday, Judge Jonathan Radway ruled that such images can no longer be used by Christian Hacking of the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK (CBR UK) after several community members complained that they were “sickening” and “horrific.”
According to Christian Concern’s Christian Legal Centre, the CPN effectively banned Hacking from showing large images of unborn babies while protesting abortion in the London borough of Waltham Forest. In the United Kingdom, CPNs are “aimed to prevent unreasonable behaviour that is having a negative impact on the local community’s quality of life.”
Although Radway’s judgment finds that the CPN did interfere with Hacking’s rights to freedom of expression, he declared that it was justified because several members of the public found the images disturbing.
One witness, according to Radway’s judgment, had seen Hacking’s image of a 24-week terminated baby and “found it disturbing.”
“It was not what she wanted her young child to see,” the judgment states. “She had given birth herself recently on 8th September 2019 and described how the image made her feel ill and emotionally affected: sick, disturbed and angry.”
Radway cited another witness who, although claiming to side with Hacking ideologically, “had felt truly sick in her stomach on seeing this image.”
“It had opened old wounds about a baby she had lost in an ectopic pregnancy more than 20 years ago,” Radway wrote. “It was that particular image, over the top but used to attract attention, which she said was absolutely horrific. She had now been left feeling anxious and nervous when approaching the location in town and described now she suffered from ‘flashbacks.’”
Hacking says he intends to appeal the decision.
The Waltham Forest Council issued the CPN back in October of last year during CBR UK’s #StopStella campaign. The aim of the campaign was to expose constituents of Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy to “the realities of her extreme abortion policies,” including legalizing abortion for any reason up to 28 weeks gestation.
The Christian Legal Centre states that “as part of the campaign, the group displayed medically validated images of the reality of Ms. Creasy’s policies” and that Creasy, in turn, demanded that the police and council intervene and “tried to use any means possible to shut down the campaign.”
The Centre adds that the Waltham Forest Council “moved quickly” to confiscate CBR UK’s banners, but contends that the police said no crime had been committed.
Council officers accused Hacking of “unreasonable behaviour which is persistent” and “having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of others.”
Christian Legal Centre chief executive Andrea Williams denounced the ruling in a press release:
The judgment says that this case ‘is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion’. But it is impossible to disentangle this distressing image from the disturbing reality it shows.
The ruling hinges on the idea that this image, showing the tragic reality of abortion, causes significant and lasting emotional harm.
But however uncomfortable the truth, we must be free to make these distressing realities known – or the vastly more horrific truth of abortion becomes immune to criticism.
There is a high bar to restricting free speech. Freedom of speech must include, and has been ruled in law to include, that which is shocking, provocative and offensive. Political campaigns are often shocking and disturbing. Graphic images of cancers are used in government advertising to persuade people not to smoke, for example. Abortion is by its nature a graphic deed. It is a bloody destruction of a human life. This is what was being exposed.
The argument that some people found this image disturbing does not amount to an argument that they should not be allowed for political speech.
“I am deeply disappointed that our appeal to show the reality of abortion to the people of Waltham Forest has not been successful,” Hacking said of the ruling. “The real victim of abortion is not MP Stella Creasy, or those negatively impacted by its visualization, but the unborn child.”
“How can we see positive change in the UK if politicians and councils are allowed to dictate how we express peaceable opinions in public?” Hacking declared. “For the sake of the unborn and for freedom of speech we must take this appeal further and hold those authorities to account.”
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