Buffer zones around abortion centres would set a “dangerous precedent” for freedom of speech in the UK, free speech campaigners have warned.
Expressing their “grave concern” about the issue, the campaigners – who support abortion – have written a letter to seven councils currently considering introducing a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).
Last month, Ealing Council voted unanimously to introduce the UK’s first abortion buffer zone, barring peaceful pro-life vigils from within 100 metres of a Marie Stopes abortion centre.
The letter – from Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship, the Freedom Association and Peter Tatchell – says that Ealing’s PSPO was “so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression”.
“We would urge the council and police to use existing powers, targeting specific problems and violations of the law”, the letter added.
It was sent to councils in Lambeth, Richmond, Southwark, Portsmouth, Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds.
After Ealing Council’s decision, Elizabeth Howard, spokeswoman for 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.
Also last month, a city council’s bid to silence a pro-life campaign was thrown out of court, in a case that challenged the “fundamental right of citizens to express themselves peacefully in public”.
Judge Richard Owen QC said there was no evidence to support an injunction against the organiser of a 40 Days for Life vigil in Nottingham.
The pro-life group welcomed the decision, saying there would have been “disturbing implications for freedom of speech and religious freedom” had the injunction remained in place.