John Bercow leads MPs in blasting ‘vile’ campaign against Stella Creasy over abortion stance
John Bercow has led Commons criticism against "vile" and "unacceptable" campaigning aimed at Stella Creasy by an anti-abortion group.
The Speaker said he was "determined" that Parliament officials would help the Labour MP, as she condemned the lack of assistance that she had been given so far from authorities.
The Walthamstow MP complained that she had been the target of "intimidation and harassment” after advertisements appeared on bus stops and billboards condemning her position on the issue.
Ms Creasy, who is herself pregnant, has been a key voice in pushing for abortion law in Northern Ireland to be brought into line with the rest of the UK.
On Tuesday, she tweeted a picture of advertising on the side of a building which featured ‘Stop Stella’, next to a picture of a nine-week old foetus.
The image, which she urged the police and advertising provider Clear Channel to remove, was attributed to the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform (CBR UK), an American anti-abortion organisation.
A Clear Channel spokesman later apologised for "any offence" caused by the adverts and they were taken down.
However addressing the Commons, Ms Creasy criticised the response of police to the campaign which she said had been going on for six days.
The MP said a 20-foot banner with her head next to an image of a dead baby was displayed in her town's centre, while there had been "graphic and scientifically incorrect images of foetuses near to schools".
The Stop Stella campaign, she added, "explicitly encourages people to target me as a hypocrite for being pregnant and advocating for the right of all women to choose when to be”.
“Residents have already made clear their distress at this behaviour, so have I and that they’ve made their point, they disagree with me and I understand that and ask them not to continue,” she added.
“Despite this they have already stated they we will keep returning and continue targeting me until I stop campaigning. Already I have received numerous threats and abusive messages that directly quote their material.
“As you expect I have sought police assistance. I’m sad to report that as yet none has been given, including from the parliamentary authorities, although Sadiq Khan and Clare Coghill, the leader of my council, have been fantastic allies...
“Perhaps you have suggestions Mr Speaker so that we can ensure that no MP and no other woman has to go through what I’ve been going through in the last few days.”
Mr Bercow responded by branding the campaign “vile, unconscionable and despicable” and said there was “a major difference between putting a point of view with considerable force” and “bullying”.
“That to me, colleagues, is rank unacceptable and it displays an absence of any moral compass. Anybody who thinks seriously about these matters cannot think that is right,” he added.
“It would be wrong in any case, but for the honourable lady to be subject to that treatment when she is pregnant and those intimidating her know that to be so, is doubly appalling.”
Mr Bercow said he was “very disappointed” at a lack of help from the authorities, before adding: “I’m delighted that the Mayor of London and his team are supporting her, but she is entitled to proper and unstinting support from the House authorities.
"If she feels that is not the case and there is more that we can do, or things that we haven’t done at all that we should be doing then I am determined that she should get that help.”
Ms Creasy’s intervention came after Diane Abbott, who was filling in for Jeremy Corbyn at Prime Minister’s Questions branded the posters “horrific” and “deliberately disturbing”.
“They’re upsetting for women walking past and in particular for the MP for Walthamstow because these billboards are targeted in response to her work to decriminalise abortion in Northern Ireland,” she added.
In response, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who stood in for Boris Johnson while he gave his Conservative conference speech added: “It is totally unacceptable.
“There is a place for free speech but we should never allow that to cross over into abuse and intimidation or harassment.”
In response to Ms Creasy’s intervention, Home Office minister Victoria Atkins added: “The Government is similarly concerned about the nature of the campaign against her. The Home Secretary has already offered to meet [Ms Creasy] and we take these allegations very seriously and we will see what can be done.”
Tory MP Maria Caulfield added: “As someone who sits on the other side of the debate on the abortion debate can I just express my solidarity with her.
"The abuse and the billboards do nothing to further the abortion debate, it is a very personal issue and we should use this forum for debate but do it in a constructive and collaborative manner.
"They do not speak for those of us who may have a differing view on the abortion debate."