Existing order around abortion clinic expires in a few months
Ealing bosses have given the go ahead for a consultation over the future of the Mattock Lane 'buffer zone’.
The Public Space Protection Order surrounding the Marie Stopes abortion clinic has been in place since 2018, and was set to expire in April 2021 if no further action was taken.
The decision taken by members at Ealing’s cabinet meeting on 10 November, means that a consultation will look at whether to extend the order, or change it in any way in time for when the current powers end.
The introduction of the PSPO was the first of its kind by any council in the UK and was aimed to address concerns over access and protest outside the abortion clinic.
Before the currently active order, protests and vigils by pro-life and pro-choice campaigners had been going on outside of the clinic for more than 20 years.
Investigations by council officers in 2017 found activity such as women and their families or friends being approached by pro-life groups when entering and leaving the clinic, including asking about what has happened to their unborn child.
Images of foetuses, and placards with references to ‘murder’ were also on display in the area.
Ealing’s community safety boss, Cllr Joanna Camadoo-Rothwell, told colleagues, “The Mattock Lane PSPO has had a very positive impact and has been successful in tackling the objectionable activity it was introduced to address, namely restricting the behaviours that had detrimental impact on those living working or visiting Mattock Lane, and especially women visiting the Marie Stopes clinic…
“It’s important to note the introduction of the order hasn’t stopped any of the activities of abortion-related protest or prayer from occurring, it just limited them to a designated area.”
It was reported that the order had broadly been complied with except for three alleged breaches since it was introduced.
And the member, who also leads on inclusion, said that there has been almost daily use of the space allowed for protest groups, as well as vigils taking place at the council’s headquarters at Perceval House and an ongoing presence of groups at the threshold of the PSPO area.
Cllr Camadoo-Rothwell added, “This ongoing activity suggests it would be reasonable to have a concern that if the PSPO were allowed to expire that these represented groups would return to the area outside the clinic and return to the activities previously engaged in.”
The council has successfully defended its position in a number of legal challenges over the order, by individuals connected to pro-life groups.
The courts rejected the appeal at all levels and upheld Ealing’s PSPO. This includes the Supreme Court’s decision to refuse permission to appeal of which the council were notified on March 11, 2020.
According to the council, the challengers have said on social media and via press releases they intend to appeal further at the European Court of Human Rights but no formal communication has yet been received.
Health boss, Cllr Binda Rai, said: “It’s really important for us to reflect [on] what life is like in the Mattock Lane area now, if we compare it with how it was until when the PSPO was introduced.
“As a ward councillor and local resident I’m really pleased with the outcome. The order seems to be working really well for all parties concerned, and it’s respected the rights of all individuals, women are now able to access the clinic, the prayers carry on, the protests are in a designated area.
“And what this PSPO has done has actually ensured that all of this activity, which still continues, and we mustn’t forget that, does not happen immediately outside the clinic which makes it so much easier for the women to access the clinic and for people to have their lives back to normality.”
A consultation will be carried out with all groups involved in the PSPO and a further report, expected in February, will be presented to cabinet for a decision on extending or varying the order.
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
November 12, 2020