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Case Studies

PSPO covers second abortion clinic

In west London, Richmond has become the second London borough to make a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to cover an abortion clinic. The full council on March 6 approved the order for the streets around the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic in Rosslyn Road.

Liz Jaeger, Richmond Council Cabinet Member for Community Safety said: “For a number of years the users of the BPAS clinic, staff in the area and the residents in the vicinity of Rosslyn Road have expressed concern about the protests/vigils being held outside the clinic.

“Following a thorough consultation, there was overwhelming feedback that the vigils were having a detrimental effect on them or others in the local area. In making this decision the council has determined the PSPO strikes the right balance, protecting the human rights of the patients and staff of the BPAS Clinic to use the services and go to work without fear and in privacy.”

Like other PSPOs, which typically cover street drinking or dog fouling (as in Richmond) – though can include ticket touting and car cruising – Richmond’s came after public consultation under section 59 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The council heard that more than 80 per cent of respondents to the consultation agreed or strongly agreed that the behaviour around the BPAS Clinic in Rosslyn Road had a detrimental effect on them or others in the local area. Also, 80 per cent supported the proposal to bring in the PSPO and the buffer zone, rising to 88 per cent of those who are directly affected.

The anti-abortion campaign group SPUC (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) pointed out that council officers had only observed peaceful activities such as handing out leaflets, praying and displaying placards.

SPUC made the same arguments – that they had the right to protest and did so peacefully and prayerfully – against the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane in Ealing, pictured, which became the subject of an Ealing Council PSPO in April 2018, after consultation. Separately, Richmond and Ealing councillors decided that their PSPOs were a proportionate response to identified intimidation, harassment and distress of people wanting to enter the clinic. A ‘designated zone’ was made west of Mattock Lane for members of represented groups to carry out protests and vigils. Anti-abortion campaigners condemned the PSPO as a ‘censorship zone‘ and have since the Ealing PSPO sought to challenge the order in the courts.

PSPOs under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 cover England and Wales. In Scotland, a weekly prayer vigil runs near the Chalmers Centre at Lauriston Place in Edinburgh; and a monthly ‘pro-life’ mass is held near the Royal Infirmary Hospital. Last year the South East Locality Committee of Edinburgh City Council received a report on the vigils and looked at whether to ban such gatherings or create a ‘buffer zone’ so that patients and staff could go to those places without ‘distress’. Leaflets left in waiting areas by campaigners are taken away by staff. The committee heard that ‘pro-choice’ counter-demonstrations can be equally intimidating to those using the services. NHS representatives told the committee ‘there was no overwhelming evidence’ of unnecessary distress; and police action might only escalate the topic. For the SPUC view visit the SPUC website.


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