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18 December 2014

UK: MPs support call for buffer zones

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, says that pro-life campaigners should be banned from harassing women attending abortion clinics.

The shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said that it was crucial that women could attend healthcare appointments without being filmed or intimidated, after a rise in protests outside abortion clinics.

In America, protesters routinely picket abortion clinics, with medics and centres being attacked. Yvette Cooper said that the government should ensure that patients and healthcare staff did not have to face intimidation and abuse.

Organisations, including the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), have warned about an increase in protests outside abortion clinics. Some patients have been forced to walk past distressing images of late term abortions or filmed as they enter and leave. Protesters sometimes try and carry out “pavement counselling” on people attending clinics.

Cooper urged the Government to consult with health providers and the police on “buffer zones” or “bubble zones”, which bar demonstrators from getting within a certain distance or barracking women.

“Women need to be able to attend sensitive health care appointments – including abortion services – without facing intimidation and harassment. And health care workers need to be able to do their jobs without intimidation too,” said Cooper. “We don’t want the kind of harassment and abuse that we’ve seen in the US imported into Britain.” Miss Cooper said that one woman at a clinic in Chester had needed a police escort to leave her workplace and get to her car.

Writing in the Independent, Cooper stated:

“Other countries have had years of angry abortion wars – but we don’t want that kind of antagonism imported here. Of course some people have strong views, but debate in Britain has usually been responsible. That’s why I think it is time for the Government to look at sensible measures to stop this escalating, so women and staff can stay free from intimidation or abuse.”

Caroline Lucas, Green MP for Brighton Pavillion, has tabled an Early Day Motion (EDM) for Parliament, titled ‘Buffer Zones Around Abortion Clinics And Pregnancy Advisory Bureaux’. The EDM reads:

‘That this House notes with concern the recent escalation in anti-abortion activity targeted at women and staff attending abortion clinics and pregnancy advisory services; further notes that approaching and recording women and staff, alongside the distribution of misleading information and distressing images, intimidates women and jeopardises access to legal healthcare services; believes in upholding the right to peaceful protest; further believes that the right to peaceful protest should not interfere with the fundamental right for women to make individual reproductive choices; further notes that campaigns against women exercising their sexual health rights can continue without occupying the space immediately outside clinics; supports the British Pregnancy Advisory Service’s Back Off campaign to implement buffer zones outside reproductive health clinics as a means of ensuring that women are not harassed or obstructed from accessing confidential advice and treatment; and calls on the Government to bring forward legislation to protect the rights of women to access lawful healthcare by enabling the introduction and implementation of buffer zones around clinics offering abortion and sexual health services.’

Lucas, who is backing the ‘Back Off’ campaign, said: “This isn’t about shutting down debate. It’s about the balance of rights. The right to peaceful protest and free speech can be upheld without infringing upon a woman’s fundamental right to make her own sexual health choices. The Government has a duty to ensure these legal healthcare services can continue to operate and be accessed safely - and I strongly urge it to legislate to that effect. These must be intimidation-free zones.

She added: “Approaching and recording women, handing them misleading information and distressing images, can constitute intimidation and jeopardise their ability to access services and advice. Buffer zones outside clinics are key – they would help ensure staff and women can access legal health services.”

In some countries, including America and France, photography and filming are restricted near such sites. Protesters are also barred from coming within a certain distance of staff or patient or blocking entrances. They are also forbidden from using microphones for chanting or disclosing the name of anyone attending a clinic.

In early December, footage emerged of a pregnant woman confronting protesters outside a clinic in Southwark, south London with a passionate defence of the right to abortions. The footage, which spread through social media, showed the unidentified woman telling them to stop “judging” those who decided to have abortions. “‘Many people have been abused, you don’t know what their reasons are for, so I think this is so wrong on so many levels,” she said.

The protesters are believed to be part of Abort 67, which holds protests outside abortion centres.

The Back Off campaign is supported by‎ the following organisations:

Alliance for Choice, Antenatal Results & Choices, Birthrights, British Humanist Association, Brook, End Violence Against Women Coalition, Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health, Forward UK, FPA, Imkaan, Marie Stopes International, Medical Women’s Federation, Mumsnet, Positively UK, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Reproductive Health Matters, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, Royal College of Midwives, Sexpression, The Fatherhood Institute, Women’s Aid, Women’s Resource Centre.

Abortion clinics should get ‘buffer zones’, says Yvette Cooper. Daily Telegraph, 8 December 2014

Women attending abortion clinics have a right not to be menaced. We need to consult on measures to enforce a buffer zone. By Yvette Cooper, Independent, 9 December 2014

Caroline takes British Pregnancy Advisory Service ‘Back Off’ campaign to Parliament. Carolinelucas.com, 17 December 2014

BPAS statement on calls for counter protests. British Pregnancy Advisory Service, 8 December 2014

Also read:

UK: Pregnant woman leaves anti-abortion protesters speechless. Reproductive Review, 8 December 2014

A video in which protesters picketing a London abortion clinic are challenged by a pregnant passerby has gone viral after being posted on YouTube.

How the UK’s abortion debate was revived. By Ruby Stockham, Left Foot Forward, 4 December 2014

UK: Call for buffer zones around clinics. More robust regulations are needed to protect women and staff from increasing intimidation by anti-abortion activists, British Pregnancy Advisory Service insists. Reproductive Review, 1 December 2014

It’s time for anti-abortion protesters to back off. Women have the right to access abortion advice without being harassed. That’s why we’re calling for clinic ‘buffer zones’, writes Ann Furedi in the Guardian. 28 November 2014.

Abortion protesters: ‘Our presence outside UK clinics empowers women’. As the British Pregnancy Advisory Service calls for ‘buffer zones’, free of protesters outside abortion clinics, anti-abortion activists say they will fight back. Daily Telegraph, 28 November 2014

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