Joint Statement - Clinics and Campaigners Welcome the Court of Appeal Judgment on Ealing Council’s Abortion Clinic Safe Zone
Wednesday 21st August 2019
Today the Court of Appeal has upheld Ealing Council’s Safe Zone outside the Marie Stopes West London Centre in Ealing, making clear that harassing and intimidating activities and behaviours towards women outside an abortion clinic are not acceptable.
Representatives of clinics and campaigners, Marie Stopes UK, Sister Supporter, and British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) welcome this judgment which secures much needed protection against harassment and intimidation for all entering the Ealing clinic.
The Safe Zone was implemented on 23rd April 2018, and from that day clinic team members found that women were no longer coming to their appointments in tears, having not been targeted and victimised by strangers positioned at the gate and groups crowding near the path.
The three Court of Appeal judges heard this case in July, where Ealing Council’s implementation of a Public Spaces Protection Order to create the Safe Zone was being contested by two individuals. Both appellants had previously stood at the gate of the clinic to try to intercept women who enter to dissuade them from attending their appointment.
The question of competing rights was an important part of this hearing. Anti-abortion groups claim they have a right to intercept women due to their right to freedom of assembly, expression, and religion. They denied that women have the right to privacy and family life when entering an abortion clinic. We categorically oppose these views. While we support rights to assembly, expression, and freedom to practice your religion, a person should never have the right to cause another to feel harassed and intimidated when accessing legal, confidential healthcare services.
With none of the prohibitions quashed, the Safe Zone will continue to be effective for its remaining two years against all of the activities that service users, clinic teams, and local residents found to have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing. Some of the activities were explicit, and some more subtle, but whatever form it takes the activity we see outside abortion clinics is a form of discrimination against women and is targeted street harassment.
A Safe Zone is the best way to protect abortion care service users by barring specific activities that cause many people to feel intimidated, distressed, harassed, afraid and alarmed. However, the issue of harassment outside of abortion clinics is not just in Ealing, but UK wide.
It is clear that there is a need for national legislation to end the postcode lottery of some clinic visitors being targeted and some being protected. It cannot be left to local councils to use anti-social behaviour tools that were not meant for this purpose. Introducing legislation would guarantee that safe access to care is not impeded anywhere in the UK. We call on Westminster to act on the clear evidence of harassment and protect people across the UK from this indignity.
Responding to the announcement Eve Veglio-White of Sister Supporter, said: We are delighted that the decision to keep Ealing's Safe Zone has once again been upheld. This is yet another clear indicator that protection of clinic users is urgent and necessary. This decision further proves that existing legislation does not cover the unique type of harassment, intimidation and invasion of privacy that thousands of clinics users face every year.
“The Isle of Man, Canada, Australia are examples of countries that have introduced Safe Zone legislation to tackle this issue. The burden of securing Safe Zones should not fall on the shoulders of residents and councils; the government needs to take immediate action to protect clinic users across the whole of the UK.”
Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at Bpas, said: We welcome the Court of Appeal’s decision. However, the harassment and intimidation of women and abortion clinic staff remains a national problem in need of a national solution.
“In September 2018, the then Home Secretary Sajid Javid rejected calls for government legislation for buffer zones despite overwhelming evidence of the suffering it causes women. Since then, there have been anti-abortion protests at 32 separate clinics and hospitals, including 4 new protest sites. It is unrealistic to expect individual councils, who are already under immense budgetary pressure, to dedicate significant time and resources to pursuing local PSPOs against what is a national problem which may indeed worsen within the next few weeks. In September, the campaign group 40 Days For Life will begin their 6 weeks of continuous “vigils” outside abortion clinics across the country, which will see anti-abortion activists target thousands more women and healthcare staff. The numbers of activists may be small, as we are an overwhelmingly pro-choice country, yet they can nevertheless have a profoundly negative impact on women.
“Today’s judgement confirms that buffer zones are legal, proportionate, and necessary. We urge the new Home Secretary Priti Patel to listen to the voices of women, medical bodies, and women’s rights organisations, and look again at the case for national legislation.”
Sally O’Brien, Manager of Marie Stopes West London Centre, said: We are incredibly thankful that this Safe Zone has once again been judged as fair and lawful, and that people who want to come to our clinic in Ealing can do so without fear of being intercepted and blocked from attending their appointment.
“It was always very clear to us that this anti-abortion activity outside the clinic was targeted street harassment towards pregnant women, but that it fell through the gaps of current harassment law. We’re very happy that the judges have seen this too and ruled in favour of safe access to care.”
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