A petition to prevent a buffer-zone outside an abortion clinic has received more than 6,500 signatures amid cries it would be in violation of “fundamental human rights.”
Earlier this autumn, Richmond Council began a consultation about deploying a Public Space Protection Order to prevent protesters harassing staff and service users outside the Rosslyn Road Clinic.
Be Here for Me, one of the groups that stands outside the clinic – pictured above – claims it holds a “vigil” and not a protest, and that it is there to offer a viable alternative for women, and their petition describes buffer zones as a violation of “fundamental human rights.”
A Be Here for Me spokesperson said: “The petition has been organised by the Be Here For Me campaign which is run by mothers helped by vigil members outside abortion clinics and has been set up to oppose the introduction of censorship zones that would ban help for women outside these facilities.
“They are being supported by women who have volunteered to help those who want to keep their children but have no help available to them.”
The petition to Gareth Roberts, leader of Richmond Council, says: “To date, the police have not found the behaviour of those outside of the Richmond centre to constitute harassment or intimidation and there has not been a single prosecution brought against anyone for peacefully offering help.”
But the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which is campaigning for the buffer zone, thinks differently.
Rachael Clarke, Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager at BPAS said: “Local residents have been working with BPAS in Twickenham for years to ask the council to take action to stop the anti-abortion protests outside the BPAS clinic.
“Rosslyn Road is a residential street and neither residents nor women attending the clinic are comfortable with being approached, handed misleading leaflets, being forced to walk past anti-abortion protesters and signs, or being stopped, followed, or called after.
“No matter what the people who stand outside think of their activity, women tell us again and again that they find the presence distressing, harassing, and intimidatory. The council needs to put a stop to it.”
In the past month, BPAS received 323 reports from women attending the clinic about the negative impact of the protest outside.
In April, Ealing became the first council in the UK to establish a 100m buffer zone outside the Marie Stopes clinic.
However, campaigners have taken this to High Court, arguing that the ban is a violation of freedom of speech and against the Human Rights Act of 1998.
A Richmond Council spokesperson said: “The Council has undertaken this consultation after concerns raised over a number of years about protests/vigils being held outside the BPAS Clinic on Rosslyn Road.
“The proposed zone seeks to prevent those using the clinic from being harassed or intimidated as they seek to enter the clinic and is not intended to prevent free speech.
“We are completely satisfied with the justifications and processes around this consultation and would encourage all our residents to have their say before the deadline.”