A west London council have moved closer to setting up the UK’s first buffer zone banning pro-life campaigners from protesting outside an abortion clinic.
Ealing Council voted to consult on introducing the exclusion zone following claims of “intolerable” and “distressing” intimidation and harassment of people visiting the Marie Stopes clinic.
It follows a petition last year by local pro-choice campaign group Sister Supporter asking the council to take action which gained nearly 3,600 signatures.
Ealing will now consult on whether to introduce a public space protection order (PSPO), which would ban people from approaching or monitoring women accessing the clinic, congregating in large groups, displaying distressing images or using loudspeakers.
Campaigners from pro-life group The Good Counsel Network have held vigils outside the clinic on for more than 20 years, while other protesters include members of The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, Ealing Pro-Life Group, and The Society of Pius X.
Last night as the council’s cabinet unanimously voted through its action plan, councillor Binda Rai condemned protester’s methods, which include handing out leaflets picturing foetuses to women entering the clinic, as “emotional hijacking at the point of access”.
The councillor, whose Walpole ward contains the clinic, said: “[This is] intimidation and harassment in our neighbourhood as women try to seek legally available healthcare.”
Last month the clinical operations manager at Marie Stopes in Ealing told a House of Commons’ committee that campaigners had warned women they would “die of cancer” if they went through with the abortion.
The GCN denies using harassment or intimidating tactics.
During the meeting a GCN representative read out a written statement from a mother who said she had reluctantly visited the clinic, before deciding to keep the baby after the intervention of pro-life campaigners.
It read: “The real help came from the people I never knew, the people standing outside the abortion centre.”
Outside the council chamber founder Clare McCullough said she did not accept that the presence of vigils could make women feel uncomfortable.
She added: “We are disappointed, we don’t feel there has been proper discussion of other options.
“We deny calling anyone a murderer, we deny chasing women down the road…I’m not accepting blame for offering someone a leaflet being a distressing act. If they were going into the dentist and we offered them a leaflet, no one would be claiming we were distressing them.”
Labour council leader Julian Bell said he believed a PSPO was “potentially a proportionate response” and the “best way forward”, and called for a national approach to the issue.
Home Secretary Amber Rudd has ordered a review into harassment and intimidation outside abortion clinics.
After the vote cheers and applause broke out from two dozen-or-so Sister Supporter members in the gallery, many wearing pink high-vis emblazoned with the words “Pro-Choice”.
Minutes earlier the groups’ spokeswoman Anna Veglio-White had told the meeting: “I think it’s safe to say that Ealing council are pioneers – and the world is watching.”