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Marie Stopes clinic: Change in national legislation is needed to protect women outside abortion clinics, committee hears

A select committee looking into harassment outside abortion clinics has heard a national change in legislation is needed

A select committee looking into harassment outside abortion clinics has heard a national change in legislation is needed to ensure proper protection for women.

On Tuesday (December 12), a committee meeting chaired by Yvette Cooper MP looked into the issue of intimidation carried out by pro-life protesters outside abortion clinics nationwide.

The meeting, set up in response to the Home Secretary's review of police powers to prevent such harassment, heard evidence from Ealing Council , Marie Stopes and BPAS.

Julian Bell, leader of the council, described the process the council is following after a recent campaign by Sister Supporter for a buffer zone outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing.

Councillor Bell said that negotiations with the anti-abortion groups, who protest and hold regular vigils outside the Mattock Lane clinic, were ongoing.

However, he also suggested compromise was unlikely because pro-life groups insist on having a “physical interaction” with women entering the clinic.

Speakers from Marie Stopes gave evidence about harassment at clinics nationwide and said that, when contacted, police did not feel they had appropriate powers to deal with the situation.

The protesters' prayers and hymns could be heard from inside the clinic(Image: Sister Supporters)

Clare Murphy, from BPAS, told the committee that some women encountering the vigils often choose to go to another clinic, which delays their treatment and puts themselves at risk.

She also suggested some women resort to ordering pills online, normally sent to women living in countries where abortion is illegal, to take at home to avoid pro-life protestors.

Pro-choice parties were clear that, although a local solution will be sought in Ealing, a change in national legislation is essential to make sure all women are protected from harassment.

Anti-abortion protesters have been outside the clinic for more than 20 years(Image: Sister Supporters)

Anna Weglio-White, an Ealing resident and Sister Supporter member, said a buffer zone outside abortion clinics is “the only solution to this problem”.

She said: “Current legislation on harassment requires proof that one person is persistently harassing another individual.

"However, it does not provide for a situation where groups are persistently harassing multiple individuals on single occasions.

“For this reason, we believe that a buffer zone, or safe zone, is the only solution to this problem and we will continue to work with Ealing Council in their efforts to protect women.

“In addition, we support all attempts to find a national solution, championed by Rupa Huq MP and the BPAS #BackOff campaign.”

Pro-choice campaigners lined the streets outside Ealing Town Hall on October 10(Image: Katy Clifton)

On October 10, Ealing Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of looking into ways of preventing harassment outside the Marie Stopes clinic.

One method proposed was the enforcement of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), which could provide a 100-metre buffer against protesters.

Sister Supporter member Richard Tall, of Ealing, added: “There was a clear message today that even just one person accosting women at the gate of a clinic is one person too many.

“If any woman feels intimidated and harassed when accessing these healthcare services then something must be done to prevent this.”

Pro-life sign reads: "We support your choice"(Image: Katy Clifton)

Councillor Binda Rai, councillor for the Walpole ward who has backed Sister Supporter's campaign, also gave evidence at the committee meeting.

Members also heard from the Good Counsel Network and Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC), who denied any harassment taking place at clinics.

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