Pro-lifers want City of Cape Town to lift protest restrictions
South Africa’s 40 Days for Life vigil against abortion which has been taking place outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in central Cape Town since September 24 will end on Sunday, says coordinator Collette Thomas.
It is the fourth 40 Days for Life campaign that has been held outside Marie Stopes since February last year and Thomas says she is hopeful that pro-lifers in other parts of South Africa will follow her lead, with Durban and Johannesburg possibly joining the international movement next year.
According to the 40 Days for Life global website, there are 279 vigils in 11 countries paticipating in the current September 24 to November 2 campaign, and at least 470 babies’ lives have been saved during this period. Since its inception in 2007, God has used the movement’s vigils to save 9 443 lives, 104 abortion workers have quit and 59 abortion clinics have closed. Based on data from the World Health Organization and the Guttmacher Institute, abortion is the leading cause of death in the world, ending more lives than cardiovascular disease, cancer, AIDS, war and hunger or any other cause, says the site. Since abortion on demand was legalised in South Africa against the will of most citizens in February 1997, more than a million babies have been killed by legal abortion in SA.
Thomas says that the main objective of the Cape Town vigil is to raise public awareness of the reality of abortion because it has “become so normal in South Africa that people don’t give it any thought”. Participants in the campaign feel strongly that people who go to abortion clinics are not informed of the negative consequences of abortion and that after aborting they do not receive much assistance in dealing with post-abortion trauma. They are also not informed of alternatives to abortion, such as adoption. They hope that people who become informed will “choose life”. Another objective of the campaign is to encourage more people and churches to unite in defending the unborn.
She says that the current 40 Days for Life campaign has been conducted with particular restraint so as not to jeapordise current efforts by representatives of various local pro-life groups to get the City of Cape Town to lift restrictions that require groups of more than 14 people to assemble 50m away from Marie Stopes. She says people participating in the vigil do gather right in front of the clinic because there are usually only a few people at a time.They are careful not to obstruct access to the clinic and do not speak to anybody entering or leaving the clinic other than people who first speak to them. Likewise they only give information leaflets to people who approach them.Their restraint is aimed at ensuring that their actions cannot be construed as harrassment of Marie Stopes clients or staff, or as hate speech: complaints which the clinic has made against pro-lifers according to a recent letter from the Executive Mayor of Cape Town, Patricia de Lille, to Christian pro-life activist Peter Throp. Vigil participants pray and display posters, she says.
Thomas says despite the restraint she believes they are making an impact by answering questions posed to people and educating them about issues around abortion and alternatives to abortion. They are also raising public awareness simply by picketing.
“Even if we change one person’s mind [about going ahead with an abortion] we are making a difference” saving a soul, saving a baby, saving a mother, saving a family. You can save a community and a nation like that,” she says.
Commenting on the 50m restrictions that have applied to pro-life picketing outside Marie Stopes since 2010, Thomas says that no such limitations apply to other groups that stage protests in the city. She believes the City of Cape Town has been influenced by pressure from the clinic which sees the pro-life protests as a threat to its income from performing abortions. She says the road island and pavement in front of the clinic have been made smaller over the years in an apparent effort to keep pro-life protesters away and to limit their impact on the abortion business. She hopes that pro-life groups will be given an opportunity to make their case in a “round table meeting” with City officials.
In a letter justifying the City’s restrictions on pro-life protests outside Marie Stopes, Mayor De Lille says Marie Stopes has complained of actions that amount to “incitement to hatred” and restricting access to their premises. The letter, dated October 21, is addressed to Peter Throp who has written a number of letters to the Mayor asking her to drop the 50m restriction at Marie Stopes Clinic. Philip Rosenthal, of ChristianView Network wrote to the Mayor on October 23, disputing the hate speech and access restriction allegations and stating that the 50m restriction “infringes on the right of both the protesters and the right of those entering to information”. Rosenthal says he has not received a reply from the Mayor.
“I hope we can stop this 50m restriction limitation on picketing Marie Stopes abortion clinic leading to more mothers chosing life and more babies being saved,” he says.
In an email response to questions from Gateway News he says: “The whole matter needs to be seen in the context of numerous other actions by the City of Cape Town which appear to prejudice the pro-life cause:
- A failure to take the matter of illegal abortion advertisers and evidence of such to the police, with the excuse that they have not yet identified the culprits. Surely they need the help of the police to identify the culprits?
- Criminal prosecution of Peter Throp on an unjust charge of damaging municipal property for placing value life stickers over illegal abortion adverts. This he was later vindicated on appeal.
- Notice of threat of further criminal prosecution of Peter Throp for parking his pro-life branded motor vehicle outside Marie Stopes, for which they have no legal right to do.
- A municipal street sign information advertising Marie Stopes on a major public road, Strand Street nearby.”