Ealing Council cabinet members voted unanimously to ban anti-abortion protesters from demonstrating outside Marie Stopes clinic on Tuesday (April 10).
The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) will create a 100-metre "safe zone" outside the Mattock Lane clinic to stop women from being "intimidated and harrassed".
The council previously received more than 3,500 responses during an eight-week public consultation it held into the proposed PSPO, which will come into effect after a five-day call-in period.
Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes UK, described it as a "landmark decision" and said women had a right to access services without facing "harassment".
In order to approve the PSPO, councillors had to be satisfied that it is necessary and would provide a proportionate response to identified issues, which include intimidation, harassment and distress.
The PSPO was voted on at a council meeting at 7pm. Check out our live blog updates below for what happened at Ealing Town Hall.
Sister Supporter campaigners 'completely elated'
Speaking to getwestlondon, Anna Veglio-White, the founder of Sister Supporter, said they are “completely elated” at the unanimous vote by Ealing Council.
The council recognises the huge imbalance of human rights in Mattock Lane and they have taken the neccesary steps to rectify that.
This is a landmark decision, this is the first of its kind in the UK. It’s slightly surreal and it’s two and half years of campaigning later but we’re just completely overjoyed.
It’s been tireless. People have been outside the clinic every single week. It’s just people in Ealing who believe that this was wrong all came together to do something about it to prevent women from being harrassed.
It’s amazing to see how the cabinet members got behind the PSPO, each came at it with their own perspective. But they could just see that we’re a concerned group of residents who really don’t want this sustained harrassment in our area.
Greg Stafford on PSPO
Greg Stafford, opposition leader at Ealing Council, spoke to getwestlondon ahead of the meeting and said his position is that the council should have spent longer trying to come up with a solution which would suit everyone. He said:
“It’s sad that we haven’t managed to find a compromise.
“I totally understand the concerns of the groups supporting women going for abortions, but I wish the council could have taken a bit more time to find a compromise.
“Possibly there could have been a discussion of a bigger area for those holding the vigils or the boundaries of those areas could be more tightly controlled.
“There could have been more discussion of what was allowed to be said or displayed by campaigners and perhaps opportunities for the discussion between those for and against to take place could have been finessed a bit more.
“Ultimately you have to protect women who are lawfully accessing health services, and they need to be accessing it without fear of approach, but perhaps there could be a way of helping women access support services to help them make an informed decision and get the support they need to do so.”
Council leader Julian Bell on PSPO
The buffer will create a 100-meter “safe zone” against demonstrations by pro-life activists.
Before the cabinet voted unanimously for the PSPO to be implemented, council leader Julian Bell said:
The evidence is clear, there is a detrimental effect on women using the clinic and staff.
“Councillor Rai is right when she says that this consultation has shown us what the voice of Ealing is. The vast majority were Ealing residents and supported the proposed PSPO. I think all cabinet members have talked about the balance of rights and I think it’s important for us to recognise the importance of those.”
On the accusations by pro-life supporters which suggest the PSPO would take away valuable support, Councillor Bell highlighted the fact pro-life activists can provide support from behind the 100-meter buffer. He said:
“What the designated area does is it allows users of the clinic, if they so choose, to go and speak to the group that is there offering the support that you received. The proposal is not going to take away that opportunity.
“It will be the individual user who is going and approaching to the groups who are there offering the counselling. It’s not the other way round, where the users are being harassed at the entrance and being forced to take on board the views of those who are outside the clinic.
“Because the designated area is still in view of the clinic, there is opportunities for people to follow clinic users and staff. I think it’s right to have a six-month review because I want to see whether we have had the outcome that we’re hoping. Our primary responsibility is to protect the women using the clinic.
“I am also minded to support this recommendation from officers to implement this PSPO in the way that it’s outlined in the report. I believe the PSPO meets these three tests outlined at the beginning, that the evidence we have been provided does show that there has been a detrimental effect to those in the locality. This has been happening for decades, so it is persistent. And actually, in a way that we’ve shaped these proposals, I think we are not being unreasonable. We are balancing the rights of everyone involved.
Ealing Council introduces first UK safe zone outside clinic
The PSPO outside Marie Stopes clinic has been unanimously agreed upon.
The order, which is subject to a five-day call-in period, has created the UK’s first safe zone outside Marie Stopes clinic. It will prevent protesters from demonstrating within a 100-metre buffer.
There will be a review six months after the implementation of the PSPO.
According to Councillor Dheer, one woman had to be transported to hospital by an ambulance at Marie Stopes clinic.
The person said: “A male came up to us, continuously chanting and saying please take this leaflet and tried to force the leaflet into the patient’s hand who was in a wheelchair and not well.”
Another woman spoke about reoccurring nightmares suffered after experiencing the pro-life protests. She said that she had dreams of the activists chasing them. One also spoke about the constant audible prayers and said their presence is “deeply uncomfortable”.
Sister Supporter on why a PSPO is needed
More support for the order
Councillor Hitesh Tailor and Councillor Peter Mason both voiced their support for the PSPO.
Councillor Bassam Mahfouz supports the PSPO
Councillor Bassam Mahfouz said he is supporting the PSPO.
“We want to provide a designated space for people to provide support. What we have seen here in Ealing is not just simply the prayers but intimidation and harassment and the distress that that causes.
“It’s providing a detrimental effect on those in the locality. As a practising Christian, I find it abhorrent to think there are people out there intimidating and judging [women using the clinic].
“Is this a reasonable step to take? We have considered all the other potions before us to protect residents in the neighbourhood. Residents have come behind us to support this decision [and] I believe the PSPO addresses their concerns.
“The judgement, intimidation and harassment must not continue. I feel I must support this PSPO to stop the detrimental effect on people of Ealing.”
Councillor Binda Rai
The people of Ealing have told us that they have had enough and they will no longer allow women to be harassed and intimidated when accessing legal healthcare.
The consultation has seen the biggest response to any survey run by Ealing Council. The behaviours in question cause distress and alarm to those living in the vicinity of the clinic. Of those recommending a PSPO in the survey, 67% saying yes didn’t just agree, they strongly agreed with the PSPO.
Many of the church leaders have also endorsed the proposals. Faced with all the evidence, so far I’m of the view that with the tools available to us, implementing a PSPO is both proportion and necessary step to protect vulnerable women.
As a woman, I appreciate it’s not enough but it’s the best we can do as the powers as a local authority. This is not the end, it’s the start of an intense national campaign.
Pro-life supporter statement
“When I approached the abortion centre there was a woman there saying she could offer help. I was given a real choice by a woman at the gate [of Marie Stopes]. She gave me help no one else was offering to help me get through that time.
“I know if you search in your heart you’ll realise this. I have been part of the vigil many times and they are some of our best citizens trying to help everybody. The report says PSPO will have a positive impact on pregnant women, but you’re removing life-saving help where it’s most needed.”
Cabinet to deliberate and comment on the report
In order to pass the PSPO, the council must agree that protests have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life on those in the locality.
Secondly, they must find that the effect is persistent or continuing and as such makes the activities unreasonable.
Thirdly, the prohibition and requirements must be reasonable to impose in order to stop the detrimental effect from occurring.
'The world is watching'
Sister Supporter Anna Veglio-White has given a statement in the meeting. She said:
“We see this order as addressing the imbalance of human rights outside the clinic. We see this as women finally being able to make it through the gates unhindered.
“The anti-abortion activists will still be able to protest anywhere they please. No-one is denying their voice. The Good Counsel Network will still be able to provide support but they must find a better way of doing this.
“Free speech is a qualified right it is not an absolute given, and it has never superceded women’s rights to anonymity. I think the world is watching and we hope the cabinet votes in favour of this landmark order.”
More than 3,500 consultation responses
The eight-week public consultation on the PSPO got more than 3,500 responses.
Take a look at this article to read some of the views of local residents on the proposed “safe zone”.
'This is not a debate about abortion'
Councillor Dheer added:
“This is not a debate about abortion. We respect the support to women who want to use The Good Counsel Network’s services.
“I think the point of contention is that is it necessary to congregate right outside the door causing distress to thousands of women in order to offer their services.”
PPSPO consultation results
According to an officer from Ealing Council, 85% of people in the consultation have seen text and images outside the clinic.
The majority of people said there’s a detrimental impact on the quality of life in the area as a result of the pro-life protests outside the clinic.
On top of that, 90% of people who responded to the consultation supported the PSPO proposal.
Councillor Ranjit Dheer speaks
Councillor Ranjit Dheer begins the meeting by speaking about PSPO considerations.
“While we were mindful of the rights of the protesters and of the freedom of expression, we also have to think about the rights of woman accessing the clinic.
“After three hours of debate at Ealing Council in October, we put the matter to vote and 69 members of the council supported the motion that we needed to investigate these matters and, if these behaviours are true, then as the local authority we have a duty to deal with this.
“We need to listen to what are residents telling us. People who use the [Mattock Lane] area and what the businesses and other oragnisations are telling us about this issue.”
Meeting gets underway
The council meeting, chaired by council leader Julian Bell, is underway in Ealing Town Hall.
Pro-life activists ahead of PSPO vote
Pro-choice protesters outside Ealing Town Hall
'Huge imbalance of rights'
Anna Veglio-White, the founder of Sister Supporter, spoke to getwestlondon ahead of the meeting and said the group is “cautiously optimistic”.
“A PSPO would mean everything to women accessing these services. It would mean freedom of thought, freedom to have bodily autonomy, the right to privacy, the right to physical and mental wellbeing.
“It’s not really even something we should have had to have fought for because it seems so obvious that people should be able to access a legal health care service without being approached by anyone.
“Women in the past have definitely been deterred from using this service because of the protests. A lot of women don’t want to go past, leave their appointments and then have an abortion later on, which obviously has massive health implications.
“Every single person should be able to make it inside to take through that decision either way with a trained counsellor and speak to actual physicians about the risk as opposed to reading that they’re going to get breast cancer in a leaflet.”
“I think there’s been a huge imbalance of rights at the clinic.
“What about the rights of people accessing the services, they have no right to anonymity, they have no right to physical and mental wellbeing. These people can protest anywhere else outside of this centre.
“Protesters can go to MPs, they can go to offices, they can go to Trafalgar Square. This is about addressing the current imbalance.
“Freedom of speech has never been an absolute right, it’s never superseded that of other people’s basic human rights. I think you can understand why people are worried about freedom of speech rights but I think the council have to address the imbalance of rights.”
Protests outside the clinic
How did the proposed PSPO come about?
The negative effect of anti-abortion protests outside the clinic was first highlighted in July 2017 through a petition submitted to the council, which called on Ealing Council to introduce a “buffer zone” outside Marie Stopes clinic.
The 3,593-strong petition was submitted by pro-choice group Sister Supporter, whose founder Anna Veglio-White called for an end to the “unnecessary emotional trauma”.
Speaking to getwestlondon, Ms Veglio-White said:
“Without a PSPO, people using the service - and this is the best case scenario - will continue to be extremely upset and will carry unnecessary emotional trauma on an already difficult day.
“The worst-case scenario is vulnerable people who are attending the clinic, including those who are homeless, undocumented or in abusive relationships, may be coerced out of accessing Marie Stopes by a stranger with no medical training stood at the gate.”
The Marie Stopes 'safe zone'
A proposed safe zone around the Marie Stopes abortion clinic is set to be the subject of a vote this evening.
Ealing Council cabinet members will decide whether or not to implement a safe zone around the sexual health clinic, located in Ealing’s Mattock Lane, to prevent “vigils” being held outside by pro-life activists.
An eight-week public consultation on the proposed Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) ended on March 26 and received 2,181 online survey responses and more than 1,500 emails and letters.
We’ll be bringing you live updates tonight as cabinet members vote on the PSPO at a council meeting starting at 7pm.