An MP has called for protests outside abortion clinics to be banned by setting up “buffer zones” after a rise in targeted demonstrations across the UK.
Labour’s Catherine West (Hornsey and Wood Green) said police attended an incident outside a clinic in her north London constituency on Saturday.
She told MPs: “We know that local authorities are hamstrung because the only available legal tool at the moment is the public space protection order which not really appropriate for this sort of issue.
“And we know that it’s quite a high threshold to meet a buffer zone under that particular legal tool.”
Some 34 clinics are said to have since experienced “anti-abortion activity” since 2018.
Last year, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) called on the Government to review an earlier decision when it decided to ban buffer zones for fears that it “would not be a proportionate response”.
Although the review received evidence of harassment and damaging behaviour, such as the handing out of model foetuses, displaying graphic images and blocking patients’ paths, the reviewers said this was not “the norm”.
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The letter to then newly-appointed home secretary Priti Patel signed by 30 organisations and individuals, said: “Based on these shortcomings in the evidence provided to the minister, we would like to invite you as the new home secretary to ask for a full review of the evidence provided and to look again at the possibility of introducing national buffer zones to put a stop to protests at the clinic gate.
“Ultimately, this is not a question about abortion, but about the ability of women to access legal and essential medical care without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
The news follows Ealing council’s decision to vote in favour of implementing a buffer zone around an abortion clinic in April 2018.
The council placed the zone around the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Mattlock Lane to protect service users from distress and intimidation.
A challenge was made against the ruling in the Court of Appeal, but three judges dismissed the claim and upheld the view that the buffer zone was “justified”.
Following the ruling, family planning organisations have urged the government to consider national legislation in creating buffer zones outside every abortion clinic in the country.