Anti-abortion activists lose appeal against council’s protest-free safe zone

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Anti-abortion activists lose appeal against council’s protest-free safe zone

Pic from www.sistersupporter.co.uk

Anti-abortion protestors lost their challenge in the Court of Appeal against Ealing Council, meaning a 100m no-protest zone will remain intact around the Marie Stopes abortion clinic.

The ‘safe’ or ‘buffer’ zone, formally a public spaces protection order (PSPO), was introduced in April 2018 and is the first of its kind in the UK. Ealing Council unanimously implemented the order following reports of ‘intimidation, harassment and distress’ for those visiting the clinic in Mattock Lane, after failed attempts negotiate a compromise between anti-abortion and pro-choice activists.

The PSPO prohibits activities including but not limited to protesting, interfering or intimidating clinic visitors and displaying images related to pregnancy. Protestors are permitted to continue activity in a designated area approximately 100m from the clinic, however, this is subject to restrictions. Breaching the PSPO can result in a fixed penalty notice or prosecution.

Alina Dulgheiru and Andrea Orthova, regular attendees of vigils held by the Good Counsel Network (GCN), sought to overturn the PSPO by taking the issue to the Court of Appeal. Their lawyers argued the PSPO interfered with their human rights to freedoms of expression, religion, beliefs, assembly and association.

By contrast, Ealing Council argued pre-PSPO users of the clinic were ‘significantly affected by their encounters with the activists’. The authority’s lawyer said the council received a petition signed by more than 3,500 people urging it to take action.

The appeal was unanimously dismissed last month by three Court of Appeal judges, upholding an earlier decision by the High Court. They ruled a PSPO was ‘necessary to strike a fair balance between protecting the rights of the service users on the one hand and the protesters on the other’.

Marie Stopes UK’s managing director, Richard Bentley, said the Court of Appeal’s judgment was ‘a victory for common sense, compassion and women’s right to make decisions about their own bodies free from harassment’. Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at Bpas (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), welcomed the Court of Appeal’s decision. ‘However, the harassment and intimidation of women and abortion clinic staff remains a national problem in need of a national solution,’ she added.

When the PSPO was first introduced, campaigners called for their instigation across clinics in England and Wales. However, this was deemed ‘not to be proportionate response’ by then Home Secretary Sajid Javid in September 2018.