Ealing Council has made history by banning pro-life protesters from approaching women entering an abortion clinic earlier this month, but it’s already been breached.
Women who opt to have an abortion are now free from harassment and intimidation in Ealing, with the council voting in favour of a buffer zone outside clinics earlier this month.
The local authority becomes the first in the country to impose the ban, which will see a 100-metre zone created outside the Marie Stopes clinic in west London.
The council voted in favour of implementing a public spaces protection order (PSPO) around the clinic in a cabinet meeting on Tuesday 10 April, with backing from Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan.
“This is a landmark decision for women,” says Richard Bentley, Marie Stopes UK managing director.
“This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.”
And the decision could pave the way for other councils to follow suit.
Council leader Julian Bell said he felt the cabinet had “absolutely” done the right thing.
He said: “I believe that this is something that’s long been needed, so it feels good that we are actually breaking the ground with this and leading the way.
“I’m personally a practising Christian myself and so I think it’s important to recognise that this is about protecting women from harassment and intimidation.”
And the decision has been a long time coming after thousands of people signed a petition, created by Sister Supporter, demanding a buffer zone be put in place outside Marie Stopes, following reports of women being harassed.
Despite abortion being legal in England, Scotland and Wales since 1967, women visiting clinics up and down the country have found themselves faced with harassers outside clinics.
The ruling also had the support of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who said in a statement: “The evidence submitted to the council was clear: these protesters have had a hugely detrimental impact on women accessing the clinic, the staff providing their care, and local residents. The council was also clear that a buffer zone was their only option, as protesters have made it clear that they have no intention of amending their behaviour to prevent women being distressed.
They continued: “The protests in Ealing are sadly not isolated incidents. On a daily basis, women across the country are being confronted by increasingly aggressive groups of protesters as they try to access safe, legal healthcare. This isn’t about the rights and wrongs of abortion - this is about the harassment of women.”
The decision means both anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners cannot stand within 100 metres of the clinic.
And people have taken to Twitter to voice their support for the decision.
“What it looked like when Ealing made history and voted for buffer zones outside abortion clinics!,” one user posted.
“Proud to be an #Ealing resident this evening - the right decision ,” another user posted.
Here’s hoping it won’t be long before other councils in the country take note too.