Restrictions on anti-abortion protesters near a Birmingham clinic should be imposed after a similar move in London, a Birmingham council health chief has said.
Ealing Council last week passed a motion which could lead to protesters being banned from standing outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the West London borough.
Campaign group 40 Days for Life is currently holding a similar vigil outside the Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Edgbaston.
However, its campaign director said they were there to “offer support”, not to cause problems for visitors.
The Ealing move would see a 200-metre buffer zone to create a safe access area around the clinic where demonstrations would be banned.
Comment: Time to move anti-abortion protest out of women’s way
Coun Paulette Hamilton (Lab Handsworth Wood), Birmingham City Council’s cabinet member for health and social care, said restrictions had not been raised formally with the authority but she would now support a move similar to that which is being proposed in London.
“As a councillor, I would very much support the position they have taken at Ealing Council as you have to give women the privacy and space to do what they need to do,” she said.
“At this moment in time, this is not coming up in discussions at the council so we don’t have a position but I will raise this with the cabinet.
“As far as my personal view is concerned, I don’t think any woman should be hassled when approaching a clinic – this is just not acceptable and not fair as it’s a very difficult time when you have to go through an abortion.
“It’s seen as real issue in some ethnic minorities. I don’t have much sympathy for the protesters, my concern is with the women.”
It is 50 years since the 1967 Abortion Act was introduced in the UK.
40 Days for Life is a Christian-based global campaign which has been running vigils in Birmingham for seven years and is part-way through its second of 2017 which ends on November 5.
Its mission is to “show local communities the consequences of abortion in their own neighbourhoods, for their own friends and families”.
Campaign director for Birmingham Isabel Vaughan-Spruce said: “The vigil we are running in Edgbaston is along very similar lines to the one in Ealing.
“If this ruling can happen there, then it can happen anywhere in the UK and this move should be of grave concern to any of the vigils taking place around the country.
“It would mean many woman would not be able to access our help if they were stopped. It’s a peaceful vigil. I want abortion laws to change but that’s not what we are going there for.
“We have had five women come to us having changed their minds since we started this campaign.
“A lot of the women visiting these clinics have not been presented with an alternative and we are just there to offer them that as many feel they simply don’t have a choice.”
Referring to the wider accusations that visitors to abortion clinics in general are being harassed, Ms Vaughan-Spruce added: “We already have a lot of laws regarding harassment so if there was any taking place outside these clinics then they would be covered by existing laws.
“We cannot legally intimidate women or chase them down the street and there has been no evidence put forward that this was taking place in Ealing.”
Following the Ealing ruling, Marie Stopes UK’s managing director Richard Bentley called on all other local authorities to follow in the council’s footsteps.
He said: “This ground-breaking move by Ealing Council sets a national precedent for ending the harassment of women using legal healthcare services.
“We hope that other local authorities will follow this example and act to increase protection for women in their area.
“For too long, these groups have used the word ‘protest’ to mask their real objectives which are to harass women they don’t know, invade their space and block their right to healthcare.
“If they were serious about protesting abortion law, they would be standing on Whitehall where the laws are made.
“We respect and support the right to free speech but it absolutely does not give strangers a free pass to bully and intimidate women.”
Source : BirminghamMail