Ban on protests outside abortion clinic agreed by London council

A ban on protestors demonstrating outside an abortion clinic – the first such public spaces protection order – has been agreed by council in west London in a move being closely watched by other local authorities

Picture: PA Wire

The first ban on protestors demonstrating outside an abortion clinic has been agreed by a London council in a move being closely watched by other local authorities.

Councillors in Ealing voted unanimously to impose a public spaces protection order, creating a protest-free zone outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the west London borough.

Over the past six months authorities in Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth and two London boroughs have discussed taking similar action, and the move by Ealing on Tuesday night was described as ‘just the beginning’.

Ealing Council has spent months exploring a range of options on how to prevent what has been called ‘intimidation, harassment and distress’ for women using the clinic following a petition set up by local women.

Applause and distress

Pro-choice demonstrators, including the group Sister Supporter, cheered and applauded as councillors approved the proposal.

But the meeting was interrupted when two distressed women approached councillors urging them to reconsider. ‘I cannot give up on this,’ one of the women told them. ‘Please go back and review what you have just done here.’

Both anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners gathered outside the council building prior to the meeting, the first calling for ‘no censorship zones’ and the others for ‘safe zones’.

Access to clinic

Responding to the vote, Sister Supporter co-founder Anna Veglio-White said she was elated and ‘overjoyed that the council recognises there is a huge imbalance of human rights at the clinic and they’ve taken the necessary steps to address that’.

‘It’s pretty incredible. We just hope we see the effect of this all over the country,’ she said.

The clinic’s clinical operations manager John Hansen-Brevetti said: ‘We’re absolutely thrilled... we can’t wait for the order to come into effect so that our patients can finally access the clinic free from intimidation and harassment after two decades.

‘We’re also so hopeful that this is just the beginning, that other councils are watching and taking note, that parliament itself, the Home Affairs select committee, will continue to look at this issue and find a solution that works not just for Ealing but for the whole of the UK.’

Not an abortion debate

Council leader Julian Bell said: ‘I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are actually breaking ground with this and leading the way. I’m proud we are doing it.’

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He added: ‘We’ve always been clear that that’s what this was about. It wasn’t a debate for or against abortion.’

Mr Hansen-Brevetti, a nurse, attended the meeting with members of the clinic’s staff.

Following the decision he told Nursing Standard: ‘We are obviously delighted. This is a huge win for preventing the abuse of healthcare professionals.

‘For the first time in two decades our staff are going to be able to walk to work without having to suffer the scowls and the signs from the protestors outside.

‘Some workers have even been sprinkled with “holy water” by the protestors, while others have been given offers of alternative jobs so that they can “escape” from our centre.’

Review in six months

Mr Hansen-Brevetti said the staff would continue to record any incidents of harassment as the council is due to review the success of the buffer zone in six months.

He added: ‘The new site for the protestors is still in sight of the centre and our staff will be prepared to ask the police to enforce the buffer zone if anyone violates the 100 metre limit.’

Alina Dulgheriu, a representative of a campaign group against such zones, called Be Here For Me, had decided not to have an abortion after being handed a leaflet by a woman outside the clinic.

Legal challenge possible

Ms Dulgheriu, 34, said she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation, and now had a six-year-old daughter.

She said the safe zone would ‘remove life-saving help when it’s most needed’.

‘I was given a real choice by the woman at the gate,’ she added.

Mr Bell said the order will probably come into effect on 23 April after a cooling-off period, adding that the council was aware there might be a legal challenge.

He said the order will be reviewed in six months ‘to see whether we’ve had the outcomes we are hoping for’.

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