Anti-abortion groups may face 'unprecedented' ban from protesting outside clinic

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Anti-abortion protesters could be banned from standing outside a clinic after a "ground-breaking" decision by a council.

Ealing Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to stop the anti-abortion groups from protesting outside a clinic in the west London borough.

Councillor Binda Rai told a council meeting it was about "a woman's right to access legal healthcare" at the Marie Stopes Clinic on Mattock Lane "without intimidation or harassment".

Speaking afterwards, she said there was cross-party support for the motion which will lead to the council looking at options, followed by a consultation period.

She said one of the options would be a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) which would ban anti-abortion groups from standing outside the clinic.

"What we've decided today is that this has got to stop," she told the Press Association, adding: "I'm absolutely thrilled that there was such huge support in the chamber for the motion, and right across the parties.

"It was really good. And this is really a stand for women, and for women's rights to access healthcare that is legally available to them.

"And of course it's also about protecting the residents who live in that area, and I represent that ward with two of my fellow councillors, so it's important that we mustn't forget that their lives are being blighted by this as well.

"And the staff that work at the Mattock Lane clinic too. So it affects all of us."

The councillor said there could be "national implications", as she said Ealing Council is the first council to have this debate, adding that it could be the first local authority to actively take action to address the issue.

Campaign group Sister Supporter delivered a petition at the council meeting on Tuesday, and said they are campaigning for the space outside the clinic to be "free from intimidation and harassment, allowing those who wish to exercise their legal right to healthcare to do so without interference, judgement and with the anonymity they are entitled to".

The council motion said 3,593 residents signed the petition, adding that dozens of letters were written by local residents who spoke of a "detrimental effect on (their) quality of life" as a result of the disruption and distress caused by the protesters.

Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes UK, said: "This ground-breaking move by Ealing Council sets a national precedent for ending the harassment of women using legal healthcare services. We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area."

A spokesman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it welcomed the vote result and urged the Government to put forward legislation to introduce buffer zones "as a matter of urgency."

He added: "While today's vote is undoubtedly a significant step forward for women and residents in Ealing, anti-abortion protests are a national problem in need of a national solution.

"The situation in Ealing is sadly not unique, and women and clinic staff across the country report being followed, filmed, and harassed when trying to access or provide legal healthcare services. This has to stop."