Ealing abortion clinic protest ban approved

Image caption,
Protestors said women were not being offered alternatives to abortion

An "unprecedented" ban on protesters outside abortion clinics could be introduced in a London borough.

Councillors in Ealing overwhelmingly backed a proposal to stop anti-abortion groups protesting outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the borough.

Binda Rai, who brought the motion, said it would allow women to access "legal healthcare without intimidation".

The Good Counsel Network, which holds daily vigils outside the centre in Mattock Lane, denies harassing women.

Two councillors abstained at Tuesday's meeting.

Image source, Google
Image caption,
Some protesters used "deliberately disturbing and graphic images" outside the Marie Stopes clinic, the council said

The council motion said 3,593 residents signed a petition, delivered by campaign group Sister Supporter, backing the move.

It said dozens also wrote letters describing "disruption and distress" caused by the protesters.

Speaking after the vote, Ms Rai said there could be "national implications", and that Ealing could be the first council to take action against protesters outside abortion clinics.

"I'm absolutely thrilled that there was such huge support in the chamber for the motion, and right across the parties," she said.


"It was really good. And this is really a stand for women, and for women's rights to access healthcare that is legally available to them."

She said the council may use a Public Space Protection Order (PSPOs), which give councils the power to crack down on perceived anti-social behaviour.

Richard Bentley, managing director of Marie Stopes UK, hailed the decision as "ground-breaking".

"We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area," he said.

Image source, Thinkstock
Image caption,
Local pro-choice group, Sister Supporter, demanded action to stop anti-abortion protesters holding vigils six days a week outside the clinic

A spokesman for the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said it welcomed the vote result and urged the government to introduce legislation banning protests at all clinics.

"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," he said.

Image caption,
The Good Counsel Network said it has held its vigil for 23 years "without any criminal charges"

Clare McCullough, the Good Counsel Network's founder, told the BBC the group had held its vigil for 23 years "without any criminal charges".

Responding to the prospect of a PSPO, Ms McCullough said: "Most lawyers would agree those orders were not put in place for this kind of issue.

"They're not there to suppress freedom of speech.

"I think it would be a grave misuse and would have implications for all kinds of groups who are protesting all kinds of things."