MP calls for na­tional ban on protests out­side abor­tion clin­ics

The Guardian - - NATIONAL - Jes­sica El­got Po­lit­i­cal re­porter

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

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