Pro-life protesters could be banned from standing outside a west London abortion clinic following a “ground-breaking” decision by a local council.
Ealing Council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion to stop anti-abortion groups from demonstrating outside the Marie Stopes Clinic on Mattock Lane.
The move comes after more than 3,000 people signed a petition demanding that women should be able to use the clinic without “intimidation and harassment”, the Press Association reported.
Now, a “buffer zone” around the clinic could be introduced within months to stop protesters from approaching patients, with the council considering a number of options to tackle the issue.
According to the Evening Standard, one pro-choice campaigner told the council meeting how a teenage girl was told by anti-abortion activists that she would be “haunted by her baby” as she went for an appointment.
Anna Veglio-White, founder of Sister Supporter, the campaign group which organised the petition, told the newspaper: “The clinic in Ealing suffers particularly severe ‘vigils’ from pro-life groups as it is a late term clinic, and has a large patch of grass opposite allowing for enormous prayer groups to congregate outside.
“This has been happening in Ealing, six days a week, for over 20 years.”
The decision could have national implications, with Ealing Council thought to be the first council to have the debate.
Having launched an investigation into the issue in July, the council will soon decide on the best option to tackle the issue, before taking its suggestion to a public consultation. A final ruling will then be made.
Councillor Binda Rai called the move “a stand for women, and for women’s rights to access healthcare that is legally available to them”.
She continued: “And of course it’s also about protecting the residents who live in that area, and I represent that ward with two of my fellow councillors, so it’s important that we mustn’t forget that their lives are being blighted by this as well.
“And the staff that work at the Mattock Lane clinic too. So it affects all of us.”
Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes UK, said: “This ground-breaking move by Ealing Council sets a national precedent for ending the harassment of women using legal healthcare services. We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area.”
A spokesman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it welcomed the vote result and urged the Government to put forward legislation to introduce buffer zones “as a matter of urgency.”
He added: “While today’s vote is undoubtedly a significant step forward for women and residents in Ealing, anti-abortion protests are a national problem in need of a national solution.
“The situation in Ealing is sadly not unique, and women and clinic staff across the country report being followed, filmed, and harassed when trying to access or provide legal healthcare services. This has to stop.”
However, some pro-life campaigners have hit back at the decision, calling it a “ban on free speech and religious freedom”.