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In a UK first, in west London, Ealing Council’s cabinet members have voted for a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) around a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in the borough. It’s due to concerns that those attending the clinic faced harassment and intimidation from anti-abortion groups standing outside the clinic on Mattock Lane.
Richard Bentley, Managing Director at Marie Stopes UK, called it a landmark decision for women. “We are incredibly grateful to Ealing Council for recognising the emotional distress that these groups create, and for taking proportionate action to protect the privacy and dignity of women accessing our clinic in the borough. This was never about protest, it was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled. Ealing Council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make for herself.
“We know other councils have been watching this process and some are exploring similar measures to increase protection outside clinics in their areas. Ultimately, we believe every woman in the UK should be able to access abortion services without harassment and we hope this decision marks the beginning of the end of the harassment these groups undertake nationwide.”
At the meeting held on Tuesday, April 10 at Ealing Town Hall, the cabinet considered a report from the council’s community safety department, including several months of evidence about activity outside the clinic, a recent public consultation and views given by interested parties.
Cabinet members agreed with the report recommendations for a PSPO, pointing to a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality. Like other PSPOs, the order will be introduced for three years with a review to be held after six months. Councillors were satisfied a PSPO is necessary and would provide a proportionate response to the protests in the PSPO area. Councillors agreed that the need to provide safe, unimpeded access to the clinic in the safe zone can be balanced with the Equality Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.
The safe zone can be introduced once the five day call in period has passed; Monday, April 23. Once a PSPO begins, anyone who breaches the order commits a criminal offence and can be fined or prosecuted under the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
As part of the PSPO, a designated zone has been made west of the clinic on Mattock Lane in W5 for members of protest groups who will be able to carry out demos and vigils. These activities will be subject to several restrictions which will not apply in any areas outside that covered by the PSPO, the council added.
SPUC CEO John Smeaton said: “It is an absolute outrage that Christians are being banned from praying in public places in their own country … This move is an all-out attack on the freedom of expression and on the freedom to pray of peaceful pro-life citizens in Britain. It is starting with the freedom to express that unborn children have the right to life and the harm abortion does to women, and the freedom to pray where one chooses.
“But, unless a stand is made, it will spread to other life and family issues on which powerful groups or the government want to enforce silence or conformity. And we are calling on the silent majority to join with us and make that stand.”
Separately, in November the Home Secretary Amber Rudd ordered an assessment of protests outside abortion clinics due to concerns about the tactics of some protesters.
While PSPOs have been widely adopted by councils around England and Wales – Weymouth are proposing one that will include a ban on the feeding of gulls – typically orders cover dog fouling, aggressive begging or drinking in public or other such low-level anti-social behaviour.