Dorothy Bain QC, Lord Advocate for Scotland, recently told the UK Supreme Court that silent prayer outside of places that facilitate abortion could be ‘far more damaging’ than hurling names and abuse.
Speaking on July 20 to a UK Supreme Court hearing about a ban on protest outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland, Bain was questioned on the extent to which those participating in a peaceful prayer vigil should be considered alongside those participating in offensive behaviour.
Bain replied that she wondered ‘about making a distinction between silent attendance outside the clinic as opposed to one where there’s overt violent-type of conduct’, saying that it ‘may very well be that silent vigil or silent prayer is just as concerning, just as worrying, just as psychologically damaging’ as a protestor shouting abuse.
“It is reasonable to say that we shouldn’t essentially put that in a separate character and say that will always be something that should be treated differently,” she said.
“I think it very much depends on the facts of the case. It may very well be, as I say, that sort of protest, engaging in that way in silent prayer, almost standing in judgement, is far more damaging to the young woman than hurling names and abuse at her.”
Peter Kearney, Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office, called Bain’s suggestion ‘absurd and alarming’. “For Scotland’s most senior law officer to so readily demean the foundational pillars upon which our civil liberties depend is greatly concerning,” he said.
“The right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly, as well as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, should, like peaceful protest, be cornerstones of our democracy.”
Kearney said that attempts to ban ‘peaceful, prayerful pro-life vigils would also jeopardise public gatherings at other locations related to activities that people might find morally objectionable, such as peace vigils at Faslane (Naval Base) and asylum policy protests at the Dungavel Detention Centre.’
“The Lord Advocate should withdraw entirely the preposterous claim that a woman about to have her child aborted could be ‘psychologically damaged’ by seeing some- one engaged in silent prayer beforehand,” he said.
The Scottish Government stated in response that it had nothing further to add to the comments.