A London council voted to seek an order creating a buffer zone around an abortion clinic to prevent pro-life campaigners from harassing and intimidating patients in the first case of its kind in Britain.
Ealing council voted on Tuesday to pursue a public spaces protection order (PSPO), which bars pre-defined activities in a geographical area and is usually used to stop anti-social behaviour like drug taking.
Of the 69 councillors who were present at the council meeting, all voted in favour of the motion bar two who abstained. The motion will now be put to a public consultation.
Binda Rai, a councillor from the Labour controlled local council who proposed the motion, said it was time to tackle this ahead of a debate in which councillor after councillor highlighted the negative impact of anti-abortion protests on the community.
“This issue is a blight on our borough and has been around for far too long,” said Rai.
Developments in Ealing will be watched closely by other councils amid an increase in the volume and ferocity of anti-abortion protests around Britain, campaigners said.
“The increase (in protests) smacks of desperation as many more people in the UK now support the right to abortion,” said Clare Murphy, of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
The vote in Ealing follows a petition from pro-choice group Sister Supporter, which regularly clashes with protesters outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the leafy west London suburb.
Sister Supporter say that video of women entering the clinic are streamed on Facebook Live. Residents have also complained about the disruption.
John Hansen-Brevetti, director of clinical services at the Ealing centre, said the harassment of patients had intensified in recent years.
“Our priority is the safety of our patients and something had to be done as the harassment had crossed a line into endangering women who use the clinic,” he said.
“This vote has significance for the whole of the UK and on behalf of the Marie Stopes community I look forward to a time when all our clinics can provide legal healthcare free of this harassment.”
Abortion has been legal in Britain since 1968 for pregnancies up to 24 weeks. The British law does not apply to Northern Ireland, which retains many restrictions on abortion.
Rupa Huq, the local member of parliament for Labour party, is pushing for national laws to establish buffer zones around abortion clinics to prevent protests.