Protesters have been banned from gathering outside a London abortion clinic in a landmark vote.
The unanimous decision, taken by Ealing council last night, will see the first public spaces protection order imposed outside a Marie Stopes clinic following numerous reports of harassment.
The buffer zone will cover an area of 100 metres surrounding the clinic and prohibit campaigners from approaching women accessing the clinic, congregating in large groups and displaying distressing images of foetuses.
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The Good Counsel Network, a Catholic anti-abortion group which has been holding daily protests outside the west London centre, denies harassing and threatening patients.
Counter protests by pro-choice activists also regularly take place at the clinic.
Council leader Julian Bell said the presence of anti-abortion protesters was having a “clear detrimental effect” on women using the services, those supporting them and clinic staff.
Another councillor, a practising Christian, said he supported the ban because of his faith, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, a reproductive rights charity.
Speaking to the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme yesterday, one woman who had accessed the clinic said she was still disturbed by the behaviour of anti-abortion activists.
“They said I was a murderer,” she said. “The words still live with me today, still haunt me today.”
Marie Stopes UK welcomed the move, saying it hoped the decision would lead other authorities to take similar action.
The Labour MP for Ealing Central, Rupa Huq, said hate mail and foetus dolls had been sent to her parliamentary office after she backed the ban, The Guardian reports.
“Of course I value public protest, but intervention in a manner which might be termed emotional blackmail at this point – at the clinic gate when vulnerable women are proceeding with what might be the most difficult decision of their lives – is not the time or place.”
“We are just praying quietly”
Anti-abortion activists say the move violates their free speech and constitutes a ban on prayer.
Writing in Christian Today, campaigner Elizabeth Howard says “lurid allegations of harassment and intimidation” are being put forward by campaigners “backed by the abortion industry”.
She says: “For more than 20 years people have prayed quietly here, while women entering the centre are offered a leaflet which outlines the help available to anyone who may be feeling forced into abortion.”
Howard argues that vulnerable women will suffer from this “draconian” measure.
“Women who have nowhere else to turn, who feel that abortion is their only choice but do not want to have to take that choice, women under pressure from partners, family or personal circumstances,” she says.
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