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Richmond Council to face legal action over abortion clinic buffer-zone

Richmond Council is facing legal action amid allegations a criminalised ‘buffer-zone’ outside an abortion clinic prevents “real choice for women”.

Justyna Pasek, a counsellor and pro-life campaigner, has launched a crowdfunder to challenge the council at the High Court over what she described as a “censorship zone”.

She said: “I understand what is at stake in Richmond because I currently spend my spare time offering women other options to abortion. 

“Many women are coerced into abortion and others just want the choice of exploring other options. Because of the censorship zone, I can no longer offer help where women most need me.”

So far, the crowdfunding campaign has raised £28,234 of its £30,000. 

Councillors agreed to implement a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) to stop vigils being held outside the BPAS clinic on May 5 2019, following complaints from a number of service users.

Earlier this year, the Supreme Court turned down a similar appeal against Ealing Council’s Public Space Protection Order brought by a mother who had received support from pro-life campaigners.

The case has now progressed to the European Court of Human Rights. 

Pasek, who is also a member of Be Here For Me, one of the various groups that stages vigils outside of the clinic, claims that the ‘buffer-zone’ will have wider implications than abortion. 

She said: “Our rights to freely assemble, pray, speak our minds, exchange information and act according to our consciences are all suppressed by this PSPO.”

A Be Here For Me spokesperson added: “It is shocking to see how Richmond has acted on allegations rather than evidence in bringing in this censorship zone. 

“Expelling pro-life vigil members at the behest of noisy activist groups in the absence of clear justification is extremely damaging for our society.

However, Sister Supporter, an organisation that campaigns to end the harassment of women outside abortion clinics have argued in favour of PSPOs.

In a statement, it said: “There are hundreds of statements, images and videos of shocking behaviour from this “peaceful” presence, including calling women “murderers”, and displaying graphic images of foetus’s.

“The safe zone is not about freedom of expression, it’s about preventing harassment.” 

One service user, who wished to remain anonymous, described her experience of being approached by pro-life campaigners at the clinic in Rosslyn Road.

She said: “Protesters were standing outside with banners on with pictures of a foetus and dead babies. They asked me, and I quote, I ‘needed God to help me repent my sins’ and repeatedly said that I had killed a child of God.

“One woman went to great lengths to explain to me how if I went through with aborting my baby that I would go to hell but if I decided to have my baby then God would love me and I wouldn’t be a disgrace. 

“She told me that my baby could feel what I had done to it and if I ever had another child they would bear my sins. Whilst I waited for my taxi, in pain and in tears, it was the worst moment of my life.”

Richmond Council was approached for comment on the abortion clinic issue and is yet to respond.

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