97% of respondents to consultation back continuation of restrictions
Pro-choice demonstrators face the pro-life vigil. Picture: Get West London
A public space protection order (PSPO) in place to stop any harassment of women entering an abortion clinic in Mattock Lane has been renewed for a further three years.
Ealing Council’s cabinet members approved a plan to extend the 2018 action, which was due to come to an end in April this year.
More than 4,600 people shared their views during a consultation for next steps for the safe zone, with 97 per cent agreeing with the plan.
Health boss, councillor Binda Rai, who also lives in the area, told cabinet colleagues in a meeting on 9 February, “We’re very grateful because it has made a substantial change to the lives of people living and using the local health care services in that area.
“We were one of the first councils to do this and it would be good to see more and more councils doing this in order to protect their residents.”
Before the safe zone was set up it was reported members of pro-life groups would congregate at the gates of the centre, now called MSI Reproductive Choices, and would “routinely” try and engage with women entering and leaving the site.
Other activities recorded by the centre include spitting, praying, singing, handing clients leaflets, or offering them money or shelter if they agreed to not have an abortion, displaying models of foetuses on the pavement, and shouting at them, such as calling them “mum” and “baby-killer”.
While the buffer zone has been in place, pro-life groups have continued to hold vigils, protests and more in a designated area away from the gates.
In the three years the safe zone has been active, three breaches of the order have been recorded.
Cllr Rai added: “These groups have only moved their activity a short distance from the gates of the clinic, they have not ceased nor permanently relocated…
“It is clear from evidence we have seen…that the impact on women of this direct and targeted interference as they attempt to enter a clinic was significant.
“It is equally clear to me that it is inevitable these harmful behaviours will return to Mattock Lane if we do not take action to extend the current PSPO.”
The PSPO has also defeated a number of legal challenges, including in the Supreme Court, bidding to remove the buffer zone.
The anti-abortion group Be Here For Me claims the zone 'criminalises prayer and support' outside the clinic and violates the human rights of residents and visitors as it prevents the free assembly of citizens, freedom of speech, prayer and the reception of information. They say Ealing Council has a duty to respect such rights when making an order and any order made must be 'proportionate and reasonable'
Responses such as from the Metropolitan Police, British Medical Association and the Royal College of Midwives (RCM) also supported the action.
In comments from the RCM, the trade union recognised the PSPO is currently the “only solution” available to manage harassment outside of abortion clinics, and calls continue for a national approach to the issue.
The statement said: “The RCM acknowledges that the PSPO mechanism is inadequate due to the strain its maintenance places on local council’s resources, and the fact that PSPOs create a postcode lottery whereby some women and staff receive protection, while others do not.
“And [we] will continue to lobby for the establishment of ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics in England, Wales and Scotland.”
Lib Dem group leader Gary Malcolm also expressed support for the move, adding: “The Lib Dem group have supported the council in these actions over the past number of years and again, this consultation is very detailed, very long.
“I think it’s very clear what the council should be doing, and we will be very happy to support the administration in extending this three years.”
Anahita Hossein-Pour - Local Democracy Reporter
February 10, 2021