politics

Abortion clinics urge Home Office to reconsider buffer zones as group launches ‘cruel’ 40-day protest


H

ealth providers are calling on the Home Office to urgently consider national rules on buffer zones around abortion clinics after a group launched an “unthinkably cruel” 40-day protest.

US-based religious group 40 Days for Life is holding 40-day long “vigils” outside 567 abortion clinics around the globe – including 14 in the UK. One vigil has been scheduled outside the MSI Reproductive Choices clinic – formerly Marie Stopes – in Brixton, south London.

Louise McCudden from MSI said it was “unthinkably cruel” to “harass” someone while they are accessing a sensitive medical service at what can be a difficult time.

She added: “40 Days for Life must know that there are very vulnerable people among those they are targeting, including young girls who have been raped, or women with abusive partners. Continuing this disgraceful behaviour during a global pandemic is putting lives at risk.

“It’s also arrogant. Most people attending an abortion clinic have already come to the decision that is right for them. The truth is, these campaigners target women and girls because they don’t trust us to make our own reproductive choices.”

Promoting the Brixton protest, the 40 Days for Life website reads: “A vigil of prayer and counsel to end abortion in Brixton, save the lives of the unborn children and shut down the abortion clinic.”

Ms McCudden said she was grateful to councils such as Ealing and Manchester that have introduced protection orders around clinics.

But she called the Home Office to urgently reconsider the case for national legislation to protect reproductive rights.

British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), a charity which provides abortion services, added: “The tactics used by these protesters may not be violent, but they’re not peaceful. Women and healthcare professionals are often left alarmed and distressed by what happens at the clinic gate. Women need buffer zones. We need a new law.”

MPs have been pushing for a ban to keep demonstrations 150 metres away from facilities.

They include the Lib Dem MP for Richmond Park Sarah Olney who has been among those calling for “buffer zones” to stop protesters picketing clinics.

She told the Standard: “Despite abortion in the UK being legalised over 50 years ago, far too many women remain at risk of being harassed.

“This is unquestionably an area that elicits strong emotions, but I’m afraid those who deal in intimidation and bullying care little about our affecting legal change and more about targeting vulnerable women.

“I stand in full solidarity with those who’ll be subjected to harassment over the next 40 days and remain committed to passing legislation that will prohibit anti-abortion protests within 150 metres of all abortion clinics in the UK.”

MP Sarah Olney: “I stand in full solidarity with those who’ll be subjected to harassment over the next 40 days”

/ Alex Lentati

Dr Rupa Huq, Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, has been at the forefront of pushing for a ban anti-abortion demonstrators from harassing women outside clinics.

She said: “Utter disgrace in a ‘stay at home’ strict lockdown that these zealots are still at it. Every woman should be able to access healthcare and the postcode lottery we are experiencing now shows the urgent need for consistent legislation so the law can protect all.”

She tabled a 10 minute rule bill last summer to keep demonstrations 150 metres away from facilities with support from Tory grandees Sir Bernard Jenkin and Andrew Mitchell.

The i paper reported in September last year that ministers were looking at plans to ban protesters from standing outside clinics and that Home Secretary Priti Patel had been holding cross-party talks with senior backbenchers.

BPAS said that in 2019, more than 100,000 women attended clinics that were targeted by anti-abortion protests.

At present, councils can apply for public space protection orders to ban gatherings, but these need to be regularly renewed.

The Standard has contacted 40 Days for Life and the Home Office for comment.

On their Twitter feed 40 Days for Life say it is their largest Lenten campaign “in history”. They are urging people to sign up for “prayer shifts on the sidewalk”.



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