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11 March 2015

UK: ‘Back Off’ campaign leads to petition for the Prime Minister

Nearly 120,000 people have signed a petition calling on David Cameron to introduce 'buffer zones' to protect women from protesters outside abortion clinics.

A petition has been handed to Downing Street in a bid to prevent staff and patients being targeted directly, with the campaign backed by supporters including Mumsnet, the Royal College of Midwives and Women’s Aid, the London Evening Standard reports. Buffer zones already exist in France, Canada and the US, but they have yet to be introduced in the UK.

It comes amid increasing concern about safety for staff and patients attending clinics. Anti-abortion protests are now regularly taking place at London clinics including at Stratford and Richmond, according to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

Police were called last Tuesday to a clinic in Brixton. Marie Stopes UK, which runs the centre, confirmed that concerned staff took action to protect women, with the charity claiming protesters were “upsetting and frightening” patients,  the London Evening Standard reports. They said anti-abortion group Abort67 was displaying “graphic posters” and using video cameras that visitors found intimidating.

Jason Warriner, chief nurse at Marie Stopes UK, said: “I want to reassure women that we have measures in place to ensure they can safely access our services. The safety and wellbeing of the women using our services is of utmost importance to us.”

Ruth Rawlins, a spokesman for Abort67, denied that campaigners had been filming women visiting the Marie Stopes clinic. She said: “We film our displays to protect our volunteers from would-be attackers and false accusations about our behaviour. We conduct ourselves in a peaceful manner and while our images are upsetting, they can only be upsetting because abortion is upsetting, and this is the service Marie Stopes is providing.”

Last December a heavily pregnant woman received acclaim after she was filmed confronting Abort67 protesters outside Blackfriars Medical Practice. In the video, uploaded to YouTube, the unnamed passer-by tells protesters: “You are wrong in what you’re doing. You don’t know why people are doing what they’re doing, but you want to be out here judging and then filming.”

Residents in Richmond have petitioned the council about the disruption caused by protesters holding vigils outside the BPAS clinic in Rosslyn Road. Philip Jeffrey of the Reclaim Rosslyn Road residents’ group said: “A buffer zone could reduce the disruption without attacking the principle of free speech.”

The Government was asked last November to consult on measures to prevent patients and health care staff being harassed.

See here for more information about the Back Off campaign, and to get involved.

120,000 back protest ‘buffer zones’ to protect abortion clinic visitors. The Evening Standard (London), 10 March 2015