Campaigners have lost a High Court bid to challenge Ealing Council’s ban on demonstrations outside an abortion clinic in London.
The Be Here For Me campaign had asked the court to rule that the ban, which imposed a 100-metre protest free “buffer zone” outside a Marie Stopes Clinic in Ealing, London, was unlawful.
Alina Dulgheriu, of the Be Here For Me campaign, and Andrea Orthova, another pro-life campaigner, 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.
Ealing became the first council in the country to pass a “buffer zone” policy in April. It followed reports of “intimidation, harassment and distress” for women using the facility on Mattock Lane.
But the case was dismissed on Monday by Mr Justice Turner, who found the ban does interfere with the activists’ human rights, but said the council was “entitled” to conclude it was a “necessary step in a democratic society”.
“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,” he said.
“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 public spaces protection order (PSPO) came into force in April after reports of “intimidation, harassment and distress” for women using the facility on Mattock Lane.
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.
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.”
Responding to the decision, 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. It is the right thing to do.”
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.