Ban on protests outside abortion clinic upheld
Author: Mark Gould
Anti-abortion activists have lost a court of appeal challenge against a council’s decision to ban protesters from gathering outside a Marie Stopes clinic in west London.
Ealing Council was the first in the UK to create a buffer zone in April 2018 after anti-abortion demonstrations. It imposed the public spaces protection order (PSPO) following reports of “intimidation, harassment and distress” for women using the facility in Mattock Lane.
Yesterday appeal court judges dismissed an appeal against an earlier ruling that the restrictions imposed by the council were justified.
Alina Dulgheriu and Andrea Orthova, who attend vigils run by the Good Counsel Network (GCN), which seeks to dissuade women from having abortions, mounted a legal challenge at the court of appeal in an attempt to overturn the ban.
Their lawyers argued that the ban interfered with their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, and freedom of assembly and association.
They also argued that the council was wrong to use a PSPO because the orders were designed to protect local residents from antisocial behaviour, and clinic users were “one-off or occasional” visitors to the area.
The master of the rolls, Sir Terence Etherton, Lady Justice King and Lady Justice Nicola Davies unanimously dismissed their appeal, upholding an earlier decision in favour of Ealing by the High Court.
A lawyer representing the women said during an appeal hearing in July that many of the allegations made against protesters in evidence gathered by the council during a consultation exercise were strongly disputed by the women, GCN and other anti-abortion groups.
Ealing Council argued that some users of the clinic who had abortions many years ago were still “significantly affected by their encounters with the activists”. The authority’s QC said the council received a petition signed by more than 3,500 people urging it to take action.
Julian Bell, the leader of the council, said: “We’re delighted the court of appeal has decided to keep our safe zone in place to protect clinic users and local people from harassment and intimidation. Since we introduced the zone in April 2018, it has been working well and we have seen a dramatic reduction in activities having a detrimental effect and there has been a significant improvement to the quality of lives of local people.
“We hope today’s judgment will provide encouragement for other councils facing similar issues, but at the end of the day, this is a national issue that deserves a national solution. I’d call on the home secretary to introduce Ealing-style safe zones across the country so other communities and visitors can also be protected.”
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, tweeted: “The news that the challenge against Ealing Council’s public spaces protection order has been thrown out is welcome. Whilst the right to peaceful protest must be respected, behaviour that seeks to deliberately target women for harassment and intimidation should not be tolerated.”