Ealing councillors have voted unanimously to approve a ‘safe zone’ to shield women from demonstrators at a centre run by the charity Marie Stopes.
In doing so, the council has become the first in the UK to ban anti-abortion campaigners from protesting outside a clinic, according to the Independent.
The decision follows complaints that women using the west London centre were being harassed and intimidated by anti-abortion protesters, some brandishing large images of foetuses and shouting “murderers”.
Ealing’s three-year Public Spaces Protection Order bans groups congregating within 100 metres of the clinic, which carries out about 7,000 abortions a year. Demonstrators are also prohibited from shouting, displaying posters and playing recordings about abortion in the area. Anyone who breaches the order can be arrested and charged.
Pro-choice campaigners hailed the council’s “landmark decision”, which they hope will pave the way for authorities elsewhere in the country to implement similar measures.
Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes UK, said:
Pro-choice and anti-abortion campaigners each spoke before the vote an Ealing Council cabinet meeting.
We are incredibly grateful to Ealing Council for recognising the emotional distress that these groups create, and for taking proportionate action to protect the privacy and dignity of women accessing our clinic in the borough.
This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.
Ealing Council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.
Councillors considered months of evidence on events outside the clinic, as well as statements from women who used the centre and campaigners on both sides.
John Hansen-Brevetti, above, clinical operations manager at the clinic on Mattock Lane, said protestors had told some pregnant women the ghost of their foetus would haunt them. On other occasions, they cried ”mummy mummy don’t kill me” and threw holy water at women as they entered the clinic.
He added that “pavement counsellors” were outside the clinic every day, approaching every client on the way in and out.
That’s how we know that this isn’t just about providing information, however inaccurate that information might be, this is about making people feel shame and fear for the decision they’ve made.
People come into our consultation rooms crying and shaking, sometimes we have to wait to take their blood pressure because they’re so anxious having been through that.
Anna Veglio-White, a co-founder of local pro-choice campaign group Sister Supporter, said she had seen anti-abortion protestors misdirect women away from the clinic so they miss their appointments and follow them to their cars to jam leaflets through the windows.
Sister Supporter’s counter protesters has been coming to the clinic every Saturday since Easter last year to try to create a “human shield” to protect the women.