LONDON, April 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The creation of a buffer zone around a London abortion clinic to prevent patients being harassed could pave the way for other English cities to follow suit, campaigners said on Wednesday.
In the first case of its kind in Britain, Ealing council on Tuesday unanimously voted to block protesters from standing within 100 metres of a Marie Stopes clinic after clashes between pro- and anti-abortion campaigners intimidated clients.
“This is a landmark decision for women,” Marie Stopes UK’s managing director, Richard Bentley, said in a statement.
“We know other councils have been watching this process and some are exploring similar measures to increase protection outside clinics in their areas.”
The council in the leafy west London suburb approved a three-year public spaces protection order (PSPO), which bars pre-defined activities in a geographical area and is usually used to stop anti-social behaviour like drug taking.
It is likely to come into effect on April 23, it said.
Abortion has been legal in Britain since 1968 for pregnancies up to 24 weeks but the volume and ferocity of anti-abortion protests have been increasing, campaigners said.
In Ealing, pro-choice Sister Supporter activists form a picket line to stop anti-abortion Good Counsel Network campaigners approaching women on their way into the clinic, brandishing graphic images of aborted fetuses.
Good Counsel Network’s director Claire McCullough said the decision was “draconian” and that the group would challenge it.
“It’s very disappointing for the hundreds of mothers we’ve helped over the years,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Sister Supporter, which petitioned for the motion, said in a statement that they hoped other councils would follow suit.
Several councils told the Thomson Reuters Foundation they had discussed taking similar action.
“The council is actively exploring all possible options to prevent protesters from intimidating and harassing women outside abortion clinics,” said a spokesman for Manchester City Council in the north of England who declined to be named.
A spokesman for London’s Lambeth council said it had held a public consultation on the matter, while Richmond council, also in London, said it was taking legal advice on the way forward following a January meeting.
They were unable to give further details as England is in a "purdah" period ahead of May local elections, during which politically contentious statements from government departments are banned. (Reporting By Serena Chaudhry, Editing by Katy Migiro (Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, property rights, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org)