Charity calls for protest-free zones around abortion clinics

Marie Stopes UK disappointed with government review that says ‘buffer zones’ are not needed

Marie Stopes UK disappointed with government review that says ‘buffer zones’ are not needed

Protesters outside a Marie Stopes UK clinic in London. Picture: Alamy

An abortion service provider has criticised the government’s refusal to support the introduction of ‘buffer zones’, which would prevent pro-life protests outside clinics.

Charity Marie Stopes UK says the working lives of nurses and other staff have improved since a London council banned protests within 100 metres of its clinic in Ealing.

However, last week home secretary Sajid Javid ruled out introducing buffer zones across England and Wales, describing them as not a ‘proportionate response’, after a review showed that only 36 of the 363 hospitals and clinics performing abortions in the countries experienced regular demonstrations.

Devolving responsibility

A Marie Stopes UK spokesperson said Mr Javid’s decision ‘effectively batted the issue back to local authorities’, which will have to consider individually whether to use public spaces protection orders (PSPOs) for clinics in their areas.

The spokesperson said the charity’s clinics in Lambeth, Manchester, Birmingham, Portsmouth and Leeds have expressed a wish to introduce the type of buffer zone used in Ealing.

Marie Stopes UK managing director Richard Bentley said the charity disagreed with Mr Javid’s decision.

‘PSPOs are not permanent measures and risk creating a postcode lottery in which some women are protected from harassment while others aren’t,’ he said.

In 2017, staff at the Ealing clinic logged an average of seven incidents a month, including healthcare professionals receiving cards addressed to ‘the murderers of babies’, as well as verbal abuse against patients.

But clinic manager Sally O’Brien says there have been no recorded incidents since a PSPO was introduced in April.

‘Women no longer have to run a gauntlet,’ she said, ‘so we don’t have anyone that’s distressed for that reason as they come through the door.’

Training and support for staff

The charity’s spokesperson confirmed that all centres have received training on dealing with anti-abortion activists, and that support has been provided to any staff member who felt targeted.

However, the spokesperson added: ‘Most of our nurses and healthcare assistants are mainly concerned about the protests’ impact on the women we serve rather than themselves.

‘Our nurses can only proceed with treatment if they are confident a woman is sure of her decision.

‘However, [the protesters] have little impact on that decision; all they do is upset women on what can already be a difficult day.’

Read Sajid Javid’s response to clinic protests

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