Anti-abortion protesters lose appeal over clinic buffer zone

Image source, PA
Image caption,
The Good Counsel Network held daily vigils outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing

Pro-life protesters have lost their legal challenge against the UK's first buffer zone around an abortion clinic.

Ealing Council implemented a 100-metre exclusion zone at the Marie Stopes centre last year after women complained of being intimidated.

The Good Counsel Network, which holds vigils outside the clinic in Ealing, west London, denied harassing women.

Three Court of Appeal judges dismissed the bid to overturn the ban on protests directly outside the facility.

The council imposed a public spaces protection order (PSPO) in April 2018 after failed attempts to find a compromise between the Christian protesters and pro-choice groups, which had staged counter-demonstrations from 2015 onwards.

The court heard the situation "generated an atmosphere of tension", and clinic users had reported "intimidation, harassment and distress".

Image source, PA
Image caption,
Ealing Council was the first to create a buffer zone in April 2018 following demonstrations

Alina Dulgheriu and Andrea Orthova, who regularly attend vigils, mounted a legal challenge at the Court of Appeal in an attempt to overturn the exclusion zone.

It was argued the ban interfered with their rights for freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief and freedom of assembly and association.

They also claimed that PSPOs were designed to protect people living nearby from anti-social behaviour, which was not applicable to one-off clinic users.

Ealing Council told the court some past users of the clinic were still "significantly affected by their encounters with the activists" many years on.

The authority's QC said the council received a petition signed by more than 3,500 people urging it to take action.

Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, Lady Justice King and Lady Justice Nicola Davies unanimously dismissed the protesters' claims, upholding an earlier decision in favour of the council by the High Court.

Media caption,
Anti-abortion campaigners protest outside London clinic in 2018

'Victory for common sense'

The judges ruled that "a PSPO was necessary to strike a fair balance between protecting the rights of the service users on the one hand and the protesters on the other".

They said the High Court judge was entitled to have determined that the creation of a "safe zone", which the protesters could not enter, and the provision of a designated area some way off - in which limited protest could take place - was "proportionate".

After the ruling, Marie Stopes UK's managing director Richard Bentley said it was "a victory for common sense, compassion and women's right to make decisions about their own bodies".

"We believe in the right to assembly, expression and to practise your religion, but this should never be at the expense of a woman's right to legal healthcare."

Ms Dulgheriu said she planned to take her fight to the Supreme Court.

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