In the first move of its kind, Ealing Council in London has decided to create a buffer zone, or safe zone around the Marie Stopes abortion clinic to prevent protesters from intimidating peole entering and leaving the clinic. The ban applies to both opponents and supporters of abortion.
Cabinet members in the West London borough of Ealing voted to approve the introduction of the Public Spaces Protection Order around the Marie Stopes facility last night, on 10th April.
Speaking afterwards, Ealing council leader Julian Bell said the ongoing problems with anti-abortion protesters gathering outside the clinic has had a detrimental effect, not just on women using the services but also those supporting them and clinic staff members. The Public Spaces Protection Order around the Marie Stopes facility, which will last for three years, takes effect on 23rd April 2018 and stipulates that protesters must not enter a defined protected area. The order will be reviewed after six months to determine its effectiveness. Anyone who breaches the order could face a fine or prosecution.
Anti-abortion protesters have always been an issue at the Marie Stopes facility, with protesters accused of trying to blackmail or intimidate staff and users alike, holding prayer meetings outside the facility and accusing people of being baby killers.
During public consultations into the issue, the council received more than 2,000 submissions from local residents, businesses, healthcare providers, religious groups and clinic staff. They also received statements from women who had used the Marie Stopes clinic and who said they had felt threatened and intimidated by the experience. A report presented to the council cabinet concluded that, as it had not been possible to negotiate an informal “safe zone” near the clinic, a public spaces protection order was both appropriate and the only realistic solution.
There was applause in the council cabinet room following the decision, but a protestor then interrupted the meeting, accusing the council of taking away protesters’ rights. Rival campaigners also gathered outside the council building while the vote was taken.
Ealing Council leader Julian Bell said that despite repeated attempts to reach a compromise with ‘Be Here For Me’, the largest protesters’ group, they had refused to stop or modify their protests, so he believed the council had taken the correct decision. He said “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are actually breaking the ground with this and leading the way. I’m personally a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation.”
Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director, said: “This is a landmark decision for women. 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.”
Elizabeth Howard, a spokeswoman for Be Here for Me, said: “It’s what we expected, after really what can only be described as a sham consultation by the council. We’re here to support women who maybe feel they don’t have any other choice than abortion and don’t want an abortion.”
A statement from the Good Counsel Network, one of the groups protesting outside the clinic said: “We are utterly disappointed that Ealing Council has responded to allegations brought forward by a protest group by passing an extreme and unwarranted measure that will ultimately leave vulnerable women worse off.” The group claimed that it existed “to support women by providing support that simply isn’t available inside the abortion centers, we do not harass or intimidate anyone. Our repeated attempts to explain what we do to the Council have been ignored, and our actions have been consistently mischaracterised.”
The average UK council seems to be run by incompetents, fixated on finding new ways to suck money out of residents and business while at the same time offering fewer services, destroying high streets and playing amateur party politics at our expense. I don’t know if Ealing Council fall are guilty of the same crimes but they deserve congratulations today. They did good.
Everybody using the clinic and everybody living in the area knows what has been going on at the centre in recent years. Shoving a photo of a dead foetus into the face of a woman who wants or is thinking of having an abortion is not support. Calling visitors and staff baby killers is not support. Intimidation is intimidation, no matter what political badge you pin to your protest banners, regardless of your conviction that your opinion counts for more than that of the people visiting the centre. And let’s not forget, abortion is legal, permitted, approved, regulated, allowed, a choice that few enjoy taking.
Of course, this does open a new door. There’s a new tool out on the wild, a new way for local politicians to stop protests they don’t like. While the Marie Stopes clinic was a deserving case, you’ve got to wonder where the next order will fall.