Ealing Council is holding a public consultation on whether to renew its Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) which protects MSI Reproductive Choices UK’s abortion clinic from harassment by anti-choice groups.
The PSPO creates a Safe Access Zone around our clinic in west London. Prior to the PSPO, women and others entering the clinic, our frontline team members, and local residents had to put up with anti-choice behaviours which included:
- Calling women “murderer” and “baby-killer” when they enter or leave the clinic
- Calling clients “mummy” or “mum” when they enter or leave the clinic
- Sharing medical misinformation, such as handing out leaflets which make misleading or false claims
- Holding up graphic, distressing and often misleading images, including the use of religious imagery
- Taking photos or filming (or threatening to do so)
- Following clients and team members up the street
- Barricading the door, trying to stop clients and team members entering.
With the Home Office dragging its feet over the implementation of national Safe Access Zones, it’s vital for the people accessing care with us and our frontline team members that the zone is renewed.
What can I do?
Respond to the survey. You don’t need to answer every question. Whether you are an Ealing resident, someone who has had an abortion, a healthcare worker, or somebody else, your experiences and views are important evidence.
- Take part in the online consultation by completing a short questionnaire.
- A full copy of the PSPO and a high-resolution map detailing the area it covers, the location of the clinic and the designated zone is available for you to review.
- The evidence and documents available to the council when the initial order was made in April 2018 can also be viewed.
- You can read MSI Reproductive Choices UK’s previous evidence submissions on why the Safe Access Zone should be renewed here.
- The consultation will close on 15th January 2024.
Answering the questions
The first two questions are about who you are and in what capacity you are completing the survey.
The following questions and answers explain MSI Reproductive Choices UK’s response to the survey. This may help you decide how to respond.
Question 3: If the PSPO were allowed to lapse so there are no restrictions in place when it expires, in your view, how likely or unlikely is it that the following activities will occur or recur in the area covered by the current safe zone?
Question 4: If the PSPO were allowed to lapse so there are no restrictions in place when it expires, in your view, how likely or unlikely is it that the following activities will increase in frequency in the area covered by the current safe zone?
Question 5: If the PSPO were allowed to lapse so there are no restrictions in place when it expires, in your view, how likely or unlikely is it that the following activities will increase in seriousness in the area covered by the current safe zone?
Question 6: Should the current PSPO be extended and if so for how long?
Yes, for the whole three years.
Question 7: Is there anything else you wish to tell us?
This section provides a free space in which you can make any further comments that you wish to share. Below are some key points you may wish to mention:
- The PSPO has been effective since it was introduced; it has protected those accessing abortion care, frontline healthcare staff, and residents from harassment, alarm, and distress.
- It has protected those groups while balancing the right to protest, as was upheld by the High Court and the Court of Appeal when the newly established PSPO was challenged.
- The PSPO applies equally to pro-choice groups and anti-choice groups, and there are still multiple ways that people can express their opposition to abortion, including “protesting” in appropriate spaces. They do not need to harass women accessing medical care in order to campaign, protest, speak or pray about abortion.
- The anti-abortion activity can have a disproportionately negative impact on people who are marginalised on account of one or more protected characteristic under the Equalities Act 2010. For example, attempts to block physical access to the clinic can have a disproportionate impact on people with disabilities; filming or photographing women entering the clinic can have a disproportionate impact on younger women; all anti-abortion harassment outside clinics disproportionately impacts women; and use of religious imagery or symbols to stigmatise abortion can have a disproportionate impact on religious women.
- Involving the police as a solution without a PSPO is not sufficient. Most clients do not want to make a formal complaint for a variety of reasons including the time involved, a lack of trust in the police, and confidentiality concerns. When police do move the anti-choice groups away from the clinic, these groups simply return at a future date.
- The fact that Parliament voted to introduce national Safe Access Zones shows that there is consensus around the scale of the problem, the need for a solution, and the efficacy of Safe Access Zones. However, although Parliament has now voted to introduce national Safe Access Zones, this has been subject to months of implementation delays from the Home Office, and will now be subject to a public consultation. As a result, we cannot guarantee that even when implemented, this legislation will adequately protect clinics like this one from harassment.
- Abortion clinic harassment continues to occur, and indeed has increased outside many clinics around the country, including all the behaviours listed and many others, especially since the repeal of Roe v Wade in the US which emboldened anti-choice groups around the world.
- Anti-choice groups have made clear their intention to continue these behaviors where they are able to do so and may see the removal of the PSPO as a vindication of their behaviour.
- In 2018 a representative from Good Counsel Network told the Home Affairs Select Committee that they would reject any compromise that would move them away from the Ealing clinic entrance or prohibit them from directly approaching clients, which demonstrates their determination to target women directly. This indicates that these anti-choice groups move beyond expressing views, and into encroachment upon other people’s rights.
- Therefore, we can reasonably expect that anti-abortion activity will resume outside this clinic should the PSPO be removed. Indeed, given that we have seen an increase in the frequency and escalation in the nature of these activities outside many abortion clinics, we would expect the behaviours not only to resume, but to escalate.
Thank you for taking the time to respond to the consultation. Your evidence submission really makes a difference.
If the Safe Access Zone is renewed, it will be published on the Ealing Council website.