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Councils banning anti-abortion protests ‘are stepping on human rights and freedom of speech’

Campaigners have challenged councils wanting to restrict protests outside abortion clinics.

In a letter to Lambeth, Richmond, Southwark, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds councils, the campaigners raised concerns over the effects on the rights to protest and freedom of speech and expression.

They argued that the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) outside of Ealing council’s Marie Stopes clinic was “so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.”

Whilst the groups behind the letter say that they respect a woman’s right to terminate a pregnancy, they are already protected from harassment, abuse, obstruction or surveillance under existing law.

Instead, the campaigners urged the councils to use existing powers to target specific problems and violations of the law, which they said would be seen if policing were increased at the site.

The letter, signed by the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship, the Freedom Association and human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, argues that the “consistent failure in the use of PSPOs to make a distinction between activities causing objective nuisance or harm, and activities with which people disagree, or that they find disagreeable,” goes against the long-standing principles of common law and human rights, as well as violating the PSPO statutory guidance.

Although acknowledging the importance of upholding the rights of women to have access to reproductive healthcare without harassment or discrimination, the authors of the letter argue that the freedom of expression must also be upheld.

“However, the construction of a ‘Safe Zone’ using a PSPO would unfairly inhibit lawful protest and sets a dangerous precedent for freedoms in the UK. Therefore, we urge your council to drop plans for a PSPO and to explore other resolutions,” they said.


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