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Ealing Council introduces pioneering measure to protect women from harassment outside abortion clinics

Pro-choice campaigners in Ealing tell women facing abuse: ‘We support your choice.’

Ealing Council has voted in favour of introducing a public spaces protection order preventing anti-choice protesters from accosting, intimidating or harassing women wishing to access the Marie Stopes clinic in the area. The motion, which passed with the support of all councillors with only two abstentions, is the first of its kind in the country. It was considered after the Council received a petition of more than 300 signatures calling for the introduction of a buffer zone around the clinic. Humanists UK welcome this decision, and believes new legislation is needed for the introduction of buffer zones to protect women accessing safe and legal abortions across the UK.

The Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing has seen a presence of anti-choice demonstrations for many years and there have been reports of women being stopped, harassed and bullied by protesters. Women have been shown graphic and upsetting imagery, were filmed without consent, and in some cases protesters have tried to physically stop women from entering the clinic.

The Back Off campaign aims to protect women from harassment outside abortion clinics

A public spaces protection order, and buffer zones more generally, respect the right of  protesters to freedom of speech and assembly, but will require them to maintain a specific distance away from the clinic so that women can enter and leave the building without being forced to encounter them if they so choose. This measure aims to ensure that there is a balance between the right to freely protest and the right of a woman to access medical advice and treatment.

However, public spaces protection orders are cumbersome to introduce, requiring extensive local consultation first. Humanists UK believes that for buffer zones around abortion clinics, specific additional legislation is desirable to reduce this burden.

Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented, ‘Ealing Council have taken a bold and necessary step to protect women from harassment and intimidation. We support the Back Off campaign which aims to change the law to make it possible to establish protester-free zones around abortion clinics. These zones have become necessary due to intensification of anti-choice protests which have resulted in instances of harassment and, in some extreme cases, assault. We hope that this decision by Ealing Council will be the first of many such measures being used to address this problem.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy at richy@humanism.org.uk or 020 7324 3072.

Read more about the Back Off campaign: https://back-off.org/

Read more about Humanists UK’s campaigns work on abortion: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/public-ethical-issues/sexual-and-reproductive-rights/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/

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