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Tuesday, 03 July 2018

Fresh calls for action on abortion clinic buffer zones after high court ruling

Written by Sian Harrison

The Government faces renewed calls for buffer zones around abortion clinics after a High Court judge upheld a ban on protests outside a London facility.

Ealing Council was the first in the country to create a 100-metre protest-free zone outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the west London borough following demonstrations.

Anti-abortion campaigners Alina Dulgheriu (pictured) and Andrea Orthova argued the ban was an unlawful interference with the protesters' rights under the European Convention on Human Rights, including the right to freedom of expression.

But their case was dismissed on Monday by Mr Justice Turner, who found the ban does interfere with activists' rights but said the council was "entitled" to conclude it was a "necessary step in a democratic society".

Following the ruling, Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq urged Home Secretary Sajid Javid to publish the findings of a review on protests outside abortion clinics, which was launched by his predecessor Amber Rudd in November last year.

The Labour MP wrote a letter, co-signed by 160 other MPs and peers, to Mr Javid in May, asking him to confirm he would continue the review.

Ms Huq said: "This is a national problem that requires a national solution.

"We renew our call today for him to publish his conclusions and do the right thing and back buffer zones."

The public spaces protection order (PSPO) came into force in April after reports of "intimidation, harassment and distress" for women using the clinic on Mattock Lane.

The facility's clinical operations manager John Hansen-Brevetti said women had been told that the ghost of their foetus would haunt them, had been told "mummy, mummy, don't kill me", had holy water thrown on them and rosary beads thrust at them.

Rejecting the campaigners' case, Mr Justice Turner said: "There was substantial evidence that a very considerable number of users of the clinic reasonably felt that their privacy was being very seriously invaded at a time and place when they were most vulnerable and sensitive to uninvited attention.

"It also follows that, in this regard, I am also satisfied that the defendant (council) was entitled to conclude that the effect of the activities of the protesters was likely to make such activities unreasonable and justified the restrictions imposed."

The judge said his ruling does not give the "green light" to local authorities to impose PSPOs around abortion clinics and that each case must be decided on its own facts.

Ms Dulgheriu, 34, said she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation, and now had a "beautiful" six-year-old daughter.

In a statement following the ruling, she said she is looking into options to challenge the judge's decision.

She added: "I am saddened and shocked that the court has upheld a PSPO that prevents good people giving help to mothers who desperately want it.

"I am devastated for those women that, since the introduction of the Ealing PSPO, have not been able to access the loving help that I did.

"I feel desperately sorry for the vigil members who since the move to create this PSPO have been consistently subject to abuse on the street and slander online."

Ealing Council leader Julian Bell said: "We are delighted that Mr Justice Turner has emphatically upheld our PSPO at Mattock Lane in full with no parts quashed.

"This sends a clear message to those that have denied that there is evidence of unacceptable behaviour having a detrimental impact on people in this area, that there was a problem and action needed to be taken."

Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes UK, said: "Ealing Council's buffer zone has already made a transformative difference to the women who depend on our services, local residents, and our own staff.

"We wholeheartedly welcome this ruling, and we hope it gives assurance to other councils considering similar measures to protect women, and to the Home Office as it considers extending protection nationally."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Yui Mok / PA Wire.