Prayer and peaceful protest have been banned outside an abortion clinic in Manchester after the council approved a ‘buffer zone’.
Manchester City Council introduced the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) around the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield today, after staff and patients claimed they had been ‘harassed’ and ‘intimidated’ by people praying there for more than 10 years.
However, pro-lifers said vigils there were peaceful, and that the PSPO is “draconian and infringes on freedom of speech”.
The new buffer zone will prevent people praying and handing out pro-life literature in the area near the clinic, as well as speaking to anyone about abortion.
The council is to allow a small space within the zone for up to three people to demonstrate in near silence with small placards.
Robert Colquhoun, the International Director at 40 Days for Life, said the vigils had been “peaceful, prayerful and legal” and that while the group would comply with the law, it would continue praying outside the buffer zone instead.
The PSPO could be challenged at the High Court.
Last year, three elderly pro-lifers were violently confronted by an angry passerby outside the clinic.
The pro-abortion activist – described as “a six-foot aggressor” by local news outlet Mancunian Matters – screamed obscenities at them and threw their leaflets and placards over a nearby fence.
At the time, pro-lifer Tom Gill said he had “never seen anything like that” in the 15 years he had been involved in peaceful campaigning, while 75-year-old Aileen Power said she was “sad that people would do that when we’re just trying to save lives”.
‘Practical and emotional support’
A similar buffer zone was introduced by Ealing Council in 2018.
An attempt to overturn the ban lost at the Court of Appeal in 2019, but in May this year campaign group Be Here for Me applied for an appeal to be heard by the European Court of Human Rights.
Alina Dulgheriu brought the case after personally experiencing the support on offer. She said: “My little girl is here today because of the real practical and emotional support that I was given by a group outside a Marie Stopes centre”.