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Case Studies

PSPO proposed at Birmingham clinic

The argument over abortion is a profound one that allows of no compromise. It’s a global argument that is, in Birmingham and elsewhere, a suburban one, for Birmingham City Council is proposing a public space protection order (PSPO) outside The Robert Clinic in Kings Norton.

Consultation on the PSPO closed on May 23 and it is now for councillors to decide whether to impose an order, like the one outside a clinic in Ealing, west London (pictured) since 2018.

As a council document accompanying the consultation said in opening: “The BPAS clinic is a health care facility whose services include providing medical and surgical abortion care. Since Autumn 2019 concerns have been raised about protesters outside Robert Clinic, many of whom are part of 40 Days For Life, a pro-life group which campaigns against abortion.

Twice a year in autumn and over Lent protestors attend the Clinic between 8am and 8pm every day, for 40 days with as many as eight to nine individuals outside including families and small children. Prior to the shift in focus to the Robert Clinic the group were present outside the Calthorpe Clinic in Edgbaston for nine years. Outside of the organised 40-day campaigns, members of 40 DFL attend regularly, on a twice weekly basis, to continue their protest.

“The activities complained of relate to protesters making known their disapproval of the users, visitors and employees of the clinic by handing out leaflets including leaflets with disturbing and graphic images, praying, chanting, singing hymns; harassing and intimidating behaviour including blocking the pathway to the clinic, approaching those entering the clinic, blocking the pavement, making their views known to anyone in the proposed restricted area including children, taking away from those using the clinic their ability to attend in confidence, free from intimidation or judgment.

“The protests have led to verbal and on occasion physical confrontations between protesters and other members of the public including local residents. Local residents have reported the effect the activities of the protesters and the presence of the protesters have had on their quality of life, including being unable to enjoy their homes and gardens, having to explain the presence and purpose of the protesters to their own young children, and their mental health being affected by the continuing presence of the protest outside their homes or whilst they go about their day to day lives. Residents have felt upset at the effect the protesters’ presence has on those using the clinic.”

Meanwhile, in the Scottish Parliament, the Green MSP Gillian Mackay is proposing that Holyrood make her Member’s Bill law, for ‘buffer zones‘ around clinics, so ‘that everyone accessing these services can do so free from the presence of protesters’.

This is backed by Clare Murphy, Chief Executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS. She said: “It is appalling that for years, anti-abortion groups have been permitted to harass women trying to access legal healthcare, and the clinicians who are dedicated to providing this essential service. Over the last year, we have seen a significant escalation in protest activity both in Scotland and the rest of Great Britain, and it is incredibly disappointing that the respective government’s have still not taken any action to protect women and staff.

“Buffer zones around abortion clinics are a simple solution to a growing problem. We strongly support Gillian Mackay’s proposals, and we urge all those who believe that no one should be intimidated while trying to access or provide safe, legal healthcare to make their voices heard by responding to this important consultation.

“At a time when abortion rights are under attack in many other countries, it is vital that the UK is a beacon for women’s reproductive choice. We must end anti-abortion clinic harassment as a matter of urgency.”

SPUC view

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) describes what its supporters do as vigils and has promised to contest ‘buffer zones’. It complains of defamation from pro-abortion politicians, activists and journalists and denies harassment. As it points out, pre-covid the Home Office looked at and decided against making any national rule about buffer zones.

The SPUC meanwhile last month presented a petition to Parliament, framing what they do and say as free speech; also in universities, where, they complain, anti-abortion students have been threatened. Alithea Williams, SPUC public policy manager, said: “A vicious campaign of abuse, intimidation and ‘cancellation’ is being waged against pro-life students at UK universities.”

More in the July print edition of Professional Security magazine. Picture by Mark Rowe; the Ealing PSPO.


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