In response to persistent anti-abortion demonstrations outside local clinics, Southwark Council has voted overwhelmingly to explore the option of buffer zones, which would require anti-abortion protesters to move further away from the clinic entrance. bpas Southwark has been subject to regular demonstrations outside its doors for a number of years, which intimidate patients and staff. The protesters’ tactics include wearing body cameras, holding large, graphic banners, and distributing misleading leaflets.
Southwark Council’s decision comes just days after the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd MP, called for a national, in-depth review into protests outside abortion clinics, pledging to consider further action in order to protect women accessing these services. Amber Rudd said:
“While everyone has a right to peaceful protest, it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment. The decision to have an abortion is already an incredibly personal one, without women being further pressured by aggressive protesters.”
Southwark is the third local authority to vote on this issue – both Ealing and Portsmouth councils have already voted to explore the potential for Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) outside clinics, in response to ongoing anti-abortion activity on their doorsteps.
The Southwark Council assembly noted that “this motion is not about the arguments for or against abortion but rather about a woman’s legal right to go to a clinic without intimidation or harassment.” Bpas Southwark’s Treatment Unit Manager agreed that women should have the right to access health services anonymously and free from interference:
“I am delighted that the Southwark Council has voted to explore solutions to this important issue. The women who attend our clinics do so for a huge variety of reasons, and each individual woman deserves to have the right to access reproductive healthcare without being confronted by the views of others. Some women are accessing our services in the midst of unimaginably difficult circumstances, and for some vulnerable women anonymity is really important.
“We aim to offer a completely non-judgmental and supportive environment for all of our clients, to enable them to access safe terminations of pregnancy as well as other sexual health services. Protesters make this more difficult and the presence of protesters can be unnerving for both clients and staff. It can be intimidating and upsetting for people (women, their families/friends) who are often already working through a difficult period in their life.”
The full motion can be found on the Southwark Council website site here.
Notes to Editors:
bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.