MP calls for national ban on protests outside abortion clinics
Anti-abortion protests outside clinics across the UK could be halted using antisocial behaviour legislation, a Labour MP has said, after her council stopped a group from approaching women at a west London clinic.
Rupa Huq MP said a “national and permanent response” was needed after Ealing councillors voted overwhelmingly this week in favour of a motion to stop the anti-abortion groups from protesting outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the borough.
Huq, whose constituency office has been targeted by anti-abortion protesters using graphic billboards, said she hoped to use an amendment to the forthcoming domestic violence bill in parliament to ensure clinics had a buffer zone to allow clients to arrive and leave in privacy.
The Catholic anti-abortion Good Counsel Network had been holding daily vigils outside the clinic, including handing women teddy bears and calling them “mum”, but denied they were harassing women going inside.
Huq, MP for Ealing Central and Acton, said she had seen the group telling women that they were going to hell and broadcasting images of the clinic’s clients on Facebook Live, which the group denies.
After councillors backed measures to stop the vigils, Ealing council said it was now considering a range of measures, including potentially using a time-limited public spaces protection order (PSPO), normally used to prevent antisocial behaviour such as street drinking.
Huq said parliament needed to find a permanent solution. “If a PSPO is used, it might only last a number of months and is likely to be subject to a legal challenge,” she said.
Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network told BBC Radio 5 Live her group did not harass the women. “I think it’s very clear women entering abortion centres are distressed, full stop. We are not there to add to their distress. The leaflet we give them lists support available, babysitting, financial help, housing,” she said.
“We offer a leaflet and then we back off. That is the least offensive we can be. We do not have cameras and there is no evidence of us filming outside. We have filmed people committing offences against us, but not women entering the clinic. Nobody in my organisation has ever called anyone a murderer.”
Pro-choice group Sister Supporter has been campaigning for a safe zone that is “free from intimidation and harassment, allowing those who wish to exercise their legal right to healthcare to do so without interference [or] judgment and with the anonymity they are entitled to.”
Catholic anti-abortionists pray and protest at the Marie Stopes clinic