More than half of MPs would support the introduction of “buffer zones” to stop protests outside abortion clinics, according to a new poll.
A survey by YouGov revealed 57% backed a decision by Ealing Council to explore the possibility of ending demonstrations in the immediate vicinity of a clinic in its area, after local MP Rupa Huq called for a change in the law to protect those receiving treatment.
Huq, who will lead a debate on the issue in the Commons on Tuesday, wants to table an amendment to new domestic violence legislation being brought about by the government.
She said vulnerable women in her constituency are being targeted by pro-life protesters, who she accused of “weaponising rosary beads”.
Ealing Council voted to explore using anti-social behaviour tools, including Public Spaces Protection Orders in response to growing harassment and intimidation outside a Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane.
Of 101 MPs polled on the issue, just 24% said the were opposed to the action being taken, and no Labour members were against it.
Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, one of the main providers of abortion in the UK, said: “A clear majority of MPs support action on anti-abortion clinic protests. For years, a tiny handful of individuals have been permitted to cause women seeking legal healthcare services significant distress. As a direct result of the government’s refusal to engage with this issue, these groups have become emboldened and protests have intensified. This cannot be allowed this to continue.
“We are a pro-choice country with a pro-choice parliament - but this isn’t about the rights and wrongs of abortion. Indeed, we know that MPs who have not traditionally supported a woman’s right to choose are in favour of buffer zones – because they understand that the harassment and intimidation of any woman on the streets of the UK is unacceptable.”
She said a number of other councils were considering taking similar steps and urged Home Secretary Amber Rudd to take action to officially enforce buffer zones.
In October, a cross-party group of over 100 MPs, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, wrote to Rudd - whose own Hastings constituency has seen activists livestream their protest near an abortion clinic on Facebook - calling for the government to bring forward legislation.
In response, the Home Office said it would “explore whether any further action is needed to ensure clinic staff and patients can go about their lawful business free from harassment, offence or alarm”, but to date the government has insisted no further legislation is needed.