Ealing Council Agree To Abortion Clinic 'Buffer Zone'

Council vote unanimously in favour of PSPO which will be in place for three years

sister supporter - Liz Jenner
( images Liz Jenner)

Ealing Council’s cabinet members have this evening unanimously voted in favour of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) or so called 'buffer zone' 100 metres around the Marie Stopes abortion clinic on Mattock Lane.

The zone can be introduced immediately once the five day call in period has passed which would be Monday, 23 April 2018. Once a PSPO is introduced, anyone who breaches the order would be committing a criminal offence and can be fined or prosecuted under the law.

Be Here For Me - image Liz Jenner

At the meeting (Tuesday, 10 April 2018) at Ealing Town Hall, cabinet considered the report from the council’s community safety team, including several months of evidence about activity outside the clinic, the recent public consultation results and engagement with interested parties.

There was a large gathering outside the town hall prior to the vote with members from Sister Supporter who initialled petitioned the council to introduce the zone, as well as those opposing the move. Ealing has become the first council to press ahead with the PSPO and there has been a great deal of national media interest.

Cabinet members agreed with the report recommendations that a PSPO should be introduced to address activities that are having a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality.

Like other PSPOs in the borough, the order will be introduced for three years with a review to be held after six months. The review will include impact analysis and feedback from interested parties, council officers and police.

Background to the decision to implement the PSPO is that concerns were raised that those attending the clinic faced harassment and intimidation from groups who positioned themselves outside the clinic.

Councillors were satisfied that a PSPO is both necessary and would provide a proportionate response to the behaviours that have been evidenced which have had a detrimental impact on persons in the PSPO area.

In making their decision, councillors had to consider the statutory framework for making a PSPO and decide whether the statutory tests were met.

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

As part of the PSPO, a designated zone has been made west of the clinic on Mattock Lane for members of represented groups who will be able to carry out protests and vigils.

These activities will be subject to several restrictions which will not apply in any areas outside that covered by the PSPO.

They will limit the number of persons within the area to a maximum of 4; prohibit use of any posters, texts or images which are larger than A3 size; prohibit shouting words and messages related to the termination of pregnancy; and prohibit the use of amplified music, voice or audio recordings.

There has been a strong reaction to the decision with local MP Rupa Huq lauding the decision. She said, "I'm proud of the decision of my borough Ealing which will make Mattock Lane which contains the clinic a much more pleasant place to pass than the site of passive aggression it has been of late where the police constantly complain that it is a waste of valuable resource to keep two groups of protestors apart so regularly. This is a great start but this is a national problem that needs a national solution, which is why I will continue in Parliament pushing for new legislation."

Be Here For Me, a campaign group who provide support to mothers who respond to leaflets distributed outside the centre condemned the decision saying testimony from people they have helped was ignored. Clare Mulvany who works with the group said, Clare Mulvany, who supports mothers outside abortion centres said, “A shameless and bone headed decision by the council to criminalise perfectly reasonable behaviour and to outlaw the offering of information & charitable assistance to those who have none. This ban is inimical to civil rights and sets a very dangerous precedent.”

“The campaign for a PSPO has clearly been the fruit of a friendly collaboration between Ealing Council, abortion activists and the abortion industry. Untested assertions, which appear to have principally been gathered after the anti-vigil campaign was underway, have been uncritically accepted & repeated again and again by councillors, the media and even our local MP.”

“Lurid stories of harassment and other wicked behaviours have all been unjustly attributed to members of the wholly peaceful vigil. This has had the entirely predictable effect of stoking public disapproval of them. “

Civil rights groups such as Liberty and the Index on Censorship opposed the move saying such measures could be used to restrict the right to protest. The Index on Censorship said, " Use of buffer zones by a London council to prevent protests has the potential to set a dangerous precedent that could be used against all forms of speech."

10 April 2018