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Pro-choice protesters
Via Instagram @sister.supporter

British MPs attempt to ban anti-abortion protesters from outside UK clinics

A proposed new law which would introduce buffer zones to stop demonstrators harassing women is being put before parliament today

Today (June 24), the UK parliament will vote on a proposed new law which would see anti-abortion protesters banned from outside clinics. The bill would introduce buffer zones to stop demonstrators harassing women, and would give police the power to disperse them.

The proposal comes two years after Ealing in west London introduced the UK’s first ever ‘safe zone’ around a sexual health clinic, which prevents protesters from gathering up to 300 metres from its gates. It also comes just months after anti-choice demonstrators lost their appeal to have Ealing’s buffer zone removed.

Currently, councils can independently impose these zones, but they must do so with a public spaces protection order, which isn’t implemented automatically and can subsequently lead to more trauma for women using the clinics before the order is put into place. Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Action, who proposed the nationwide bill, said councils have enough on their plates without having to introduce orders on an ad hoc basis.

In an opinion piece for Dazed, Anna Veglio-White, the founder of Ealing-based activist group Sister Supporter – who secured the borough’s buffer zone – said these isolated orders create a “poscode lottery – a hideously unfair geographical draw whereby those accessing services at a clinic with a buffer zone are able to do so free from interference, intimidation, and harassment, and those without buffer zones aren’t”.

“This is a national problem,” Huq told the BBC, “that requires a national solution. This bill would have them (protesters) moved away from the clinic gates of all abortion facilities so they can stop the emotional blackmail of calling women approaching ‘mum’, lining the pavement with gruesome foetus dolls and images, and filming women to shame them.”

In a statement, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said: “In the last two years, 46 clinics in England and Wales have had protests outside. Women and healthcare professionals need help. We need a new law.” The group added that five clinics have seen protests this month, just as the UK begins to emerge from lockdown. “This isn’t a problem that’s going away.”

Sister Supporter added: “We need national buffer zones to #endharassment outside abortion clinics across the UK. PSPOs, like the one we secured in Ealing, are a temporary solution which require a lot of time and resources to implement.”

Huq will introduce her bill, which has cross-party backing from the Lib Dems, Green Party, and the Tories, at 12:30PM BST today.

Update (1:55PM): MPs have voted to support Huq’s bill, with 213 votes in favour, versus 47 against. According to BPAS, it’s “just the first step for the bill”, though the charity added: “Great to see such support for women being able to access healthcare without fear of harassment or intimidation.”