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Call for UK abortion clinic ‘safe access zones’

The UK needs ‘safe access zones’ around all abortion clinics, according to Marie Stopes UK in an open letter to the new Prime Minister Boris Johnson. The charity said that the UK ‘is in desperate need of abortion law reform’, and even when women can access abortion care at a safe and legal clinic (unlike in Northern Ireland), ‘they still face the very physical barrier of anti-abortion protests outside of many clinics’.

The letter by MD Richard Bentley said: “For women seeking abortion care, the experience of walking past protestors can cause significant distress and upset at what may already be a difficult time.” Some anti-choice groups, the letter went on, have been known to film or take photos of women entering a clinic, or hand out leaflets claiming a link between abortion and breast cancer. The charity described a PSPO (public spaces protection order) around its clinic in Ealing, west London as having a ‘transformative effect’, where a buffer zone was put in place last year, ‘ending the harassment that our clients and team members faced’.

Pictured, a silent vigil by a single protester outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Whitfield Street, London W1.

Meanwhile, the Court of Appeal was last month considering whether the Ealing PSPO is lawful. The civil liberties campaign group Liberty has argued that the privacy rights of those attending the Mattock Lane clinic must be protected, but that the Ealing Council PSPO is too broad and goes too far in curtailing the fundamental right of all people to protest in public spaces.

Manchester City Council Communities and Equalities Scrutiny Committee recently considered petitions (paper and online) asking for PSPOs around all abortion-providing clinics. The committee is due to look further into PSPOs at its January meeting.

A PSPO falls under section 59 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 and are widely in use by local government, usually against dog mess and anti-social behaviour or nuisance such as aggressive begging, on-street drinking and urinating, or illegal street racing.


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