When rights collide

In the red corner we have women who want an abortion. They have the right to own their own bodies
In the blue corner we have the anti-abortion protesters. They have the right to free speech

So which right wins? There's only one way to find out


Ostensibly, women’s rights have long been enshrined in law [...]

Reproductive rights are one area where parity is far off, and you don’t need to go far to witness women being subjected to open, regular abuse. Intimidation occurs daily outside family planning clinics nationwide, in increasingly virulent protests by the so-called religious, aimed at stopping women having abortions. Women in Ealing have had to put up with this over at least three decades. As its MP I want to do something about it so women can access services provided by the NHS, free from fear and intimidation.

[...] a leafy bit of London, [...] houses a Marie Stopes clinic. For years I’ve walked [past] it – often to drop my son off at his drama club – silently seething with rage when the anti-abortion brigade line the pavement with wildly inaccurate and gruesome foetus dolls and graphic images, clutching rosary beads, and attempting to stop women from going in and out.

The tension has ramped up in recent years, aided and abetted by technology and social media. Women on the brink of a major medical procedure, with additional layers of moral dilemmas heaped on top, are caught in the crossfire. Locally, there’s a sense that enough is enough.

The police express inability to do anything under public order legislation [...]

This week, a motion comes before Ealing council that would extend asbo powers [...] to stop these protests.

If successful, this approach could be replicated nationwide. [...]

This is about women’s security: every woman deserves to be able to go about her life in safety. I recently met some of those who work in the clinic and it was illuminating to hear stories from staff who frequently have their path obstructed by zealots simply while going to work. They keep an incident book; tellingly the chants and tactics differ for women entering and leaving. On the way in, it’s emotional blackmail: teddy bears are thrust at women who get called “mum”. On leaving they are met with anger and commonly told they’re headed for hell. Creepy footage of them shot without their consent gets transmitted via Facebook Live.

Those who call out abuse are often met with abuse. I’ve had my office picketed for speaking out on this and I am regularly threatened on social media, a further bullying tactic designed to silence. The council needs to pass this motion, and a more permanent national solution needs to be found, so we can ensure that the pavement is a safe space for women accessing NHS services – surely not too big an ask. After all, whatever happened to thou shalt not judge?

A new law to stop people protesting against something they strongly disagree with. As a Libertarian, I firmly believe in a woman's right to choose. Also as a Libertarian, you would probably think I also agree with the right to protest. Reader, I do not

Let's have a look at this specific example, as it's not too difficult to fathom. These protesters are doing the following:
  • Actively trying to prevent people going about their lawful way
  • Harassing people
  • Shouting abuse and bullying
That crosses the line from protest to abuse and there is no excuse for it. If you don't like abortion, don't get one

Let's expand it a little.

My boss recently went to an anti-Brexit protest in Manchester. We had a vote on Brexit and we voted to leave. Do people have the right to protest that vote? What do they want? Do they simply want to express their dismay at the vote? No, they want it overturned

We've also had many anti-austerity protests, some of which have turned violent. What do they want? They want 'austerity' stopped, the welfare state to be expanded and for other people to pay for it. They want to take money from other people by force

We've had anti-Tory protests. As with Brexit, what they want is to overturn the result of the general election

Some Americans are protesting the right to armed self defence

The general theme in all these protests is that a group of people want to remove a democratic (or constitutional) process, prevent other people doing something they disapprove of and deprive other people of money for their own gain. They want to make their lives better (in their opinion) at the expense of others

And in all cases, the things these people are protesting for, are never going to happen

But they still have the right to protest? I hear you saying something on the lines of you don't agree with them but would die for their right to say it. Well that may become an option

Let's assume everyone who protests, gets what they want

It's very rare that anyone protests for more liberty, more rights, lower taxes, and smaller government. If all the protesters got their wishes, democracy, freedom and liberty would be stripped away in favour of an all powerful socialist state

That might finally make some people want to protest for more freedoms, but by then, protest would be illegal anyway

Freedom of speech, definitely. Say whatever crap you want. But bring an entire town to a standstill, cost an arm and a leg in police resources, all for something that probably will never happen and definitely shouldn't? Protest to take away the rights, freedoms and money of others? No. I can't get behind that

But what's the alternative? Ban protests so nobody can do it? Appoint a Government to decide who has the right to protest and who doesn't? Jeez. This could get deep

Of course, in a truly Libertarian country, this would not be an issue. The Government would not be in a position to do any of the things being demanded, even if they wanted to, as they would not be granted those kinds of powers

But we don't live in that kind of country. At least when there is a protest, the powers that be should come down hard on anyone who turns it into a violent demonstration, rather than standing back and letting them loot shoes and tellys. I'm sure we can all agree that that kind of behaviour is not a right in any sense of the word

Which brings us back to the original story. As long as these people engage in intimidation and obstruction then yes, they should be stopped

So even though I object to new rules and regulations, in the world we live in, which is far from an ideal one, I can get behind this one

In an ideal world, the state would not have the monopoly on personal defence