In a letter to the Times, secular free speech campaigners criticised a London council’s decision to introduce the UK’s first abortion clinic buffer zone.
Following Ealing Council’s unanimous vote to introduce a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), barring protestors from within 100m of a Marie Stopes abortion centre, the campaigners argued that ‘the construction of a ‘Safe Zone’ using a PSPO would unfairly inhibit lawful protest and sets a dangerous precedent for freedoms in the UK. It urged the council to drop its plans for a PSPO and explore other resolutions’.
The letter, dated 18 May 2018 and signed by the directors of the Manifesto Club and Big Brother Watch, the CEOs of ‘Index on Censorship and the Freedom Association’, and Peter Tatchell, said the PSPO fails ‘to make a distinction between activities causing objective harm and activities with which people disagree’. While stating they respected a woman’s right to abortion, they said they also want to ‘defend the right to protest and freedom of expression’.
The campaigners criticised the PSPO for being ‘so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on fundamental rights, particularly the prohibition on “protest”, which includes ‘engaging in any act of approval/disapproval’ by ‘any means’.’
Interfering with access to abortion providers — through harassment, abuse, obstruction or surveillance — ‘is already prohibited under law,’ they said, concluding: ‘We believe that this goes against longstanding principles of common law and human rights law, as well as the statutory guidance on PSPOs’.
The Ealing Council ban is currently being challenged in the High Court.