Abortion buffer zones breach freedom of speech

Free speech campaigners have spoken out against a London council’s decision to introduce the UK’s first abortion clinic buffer zone, citing the damage it will do to society.

Last month, Ealing Council voted unanimously to introduce a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO), barring protestors from within 100 metres of a Marie Stopes abortion centre.

But, in a letter to The Times, the campaigners said that the PSPO fails “to make a distinction between activities causing objective harm and activities with which people disagree”.

‘Freedom of expression’

The five signatories to the letter were the Directors of the Manifesto Club and Big Brother Watch, the CEOs of Index on Censorship and the Freedom Association, and Peter Tatchell.

While stating their support for abortion, they added that they also want to “defend the right to protest and freedom of expression”.

The campaigners criticised the PSPO for being “so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on fundamental rights, particularly the prohibition on ‘protest’, which includes ‘engaging in any act of approval/disapproval’ by ‘any means’”.

‘Draconian ban’

They noted that interfering with access to abortion providers — through harassment, abuse, obstruction or surveillance — “is already prohibited under law”.

The campaigners concluded: “We believe that this goes against longstanding principles of common law and human rights law, as well as the statutory guidance on PSPOs.”

At the time of the ban, Elizabeth Howard, spokeswoman for new campaign group Be Here For Me, described the PSPO as “a draconian ban that will criminalise ordinary citizens who just want to offer help to vulnerable young women outside abortion clinics”.

The ban is currently being challenged in the High Court.

Related Resources