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Council adopts ‘anti-abortion safe zone’ protest ban in UK first

A West London council will become the first in the UK to ban the public from protesting outside an abortion clinic following complaints of intimidation.

In a controversial move, Ealing councillors unanimously voted to implement a ‘safe zone’ around the Marie Stopes clinic after women claimed they were being harassed by anti-abortion campaigners.

The ban forms part of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which prohibits groups from congregating within 100 metres of the clinic, as well as shouting, displaying posters or playing recordings about abortion in the area. Anyone who breaches the order can be arrested and charged.

Councillors all agreed that the need to provide safe access to the clinic can be balanced with the Equality Act and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Applause in broke out in the Ealing council cabinet room following the decision, but a protestor then interrupted the meeting and accused the council of taking away their rights.

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.”

The decision could pave the way for other councils to follow suit.

Council leader Julian Bell told the media he felt the cabinet had “absolutely” done the right thing.

“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,” he added.

“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.”

(Top image c. John Stillwell, PA Wire)


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