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Southwark to explore protest ‘buffer zone’ at SE1 abortion clinic

Southwark councillors have unanimously backed a motion supporting the idea of a 'buffer zone' around the Blackfriars Medical Practice in Colombo Street where anti-abortion campaigners have held regular protests.

Southwark to explore protest ‘buffer zone’ at SE1 abortion clinic

The cross-party motion was proposed by Cathedrals ward Lib Dem councillor David Noakes – in whose ward the Blackfriars Medical Centre is located – and seconded by Labour's Radha Burgess.

You can listen to their speeches in full on this page.

Text of the motion

Council assembly notes:

1. That 50 years ago the Abortion Act 1967, was introduced by Liberal MP David Steel as a Private Members Bill, and passed in a free vote, making abortion legal in Great Britain, although not Northern Ireland.

2. That this motion is not about the arguments for or against abortion but rather about a woman's legal right to go to a clinic without intimidation or harassment.

3. That members will have their own personal views about abortion and that these should be respected.

4. That anti-abortion protesters have been protesting outside Blackfriars Medical Centre in Colombo Street, SE1, which is an NHS GP practice, for at least 3 years where a British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) clinic is based.

5. That the anti-abortion protestors have emotional and distressing images and have body cameras, that they claim to have for their own protection, which can also capture those coming and going from the clinic.

6. The cross party campaign by a number of members of parliament, including Labour MPs Diane Abbott and Rupa Huq, to introduce "buffer zones" and notes a recent YouGov survey that showed that over half the MPs who responded supported a change in the law.

7. The motion passed by Ealing Council which "commits to fully explore every possible option" and "to take all necessary actions within its powers, utilising all necessary resources, to prevent anti-abortion protesters from intimidating and harassing women outside the Marie Stopes Clinic on Mattock Lane".

Council assembly resolves:

8. That while the right to protest is an important right in a free society, the right to advice and a legal safe abortion without intimidation and harassment for women should not be compromised by these protests.

9. To engage with other interested parties including BPAS, Blackfriars Medical Centre, Southwark Police, Neil Coyle MP, Cathedrals ward councillors, Southwark CCG (Clinical Commissioning Group) and local residents to consider whether similar action should be pursued outside the Blackfriars Medical Centre/BPAS clinic in Colombo Street and if necessary any other clinics in Southwark.

10. To investigate whether Southwark Council should work with Ealing Council, and other interested local councils such as Lambeth Council in regards to identifying the appropriate legislation to use to install a "buffer zone" outside our clinics and defend any potential legal challenge, recognising that Southwark residents may travel outside the borough to access abortions.

11. To support the campaign for new legislation to be introduced by the Government to legalise "buffer zones" outside abortion clinics.

Reaction to the council's vote from anti-abortion campaigners

Ruth Rawlins, spokeswoman for campaign group Abort67, told us: "Buffer zones are not about protecting individuals, i.e. women, but about protecting businesses.

"The current laws already protect women and all people against harassment. Our public education displays use banners and leaflets with information on abortion that the public has a right to know.

"The police are watching us, as are the clinic's security cameras, and there has never been any evidence of harassment or preventing access to clinics because it simply doesn't happen.

"Councillors and MPs are being manipulated by the abortion lobby, they are then misleading their colleagues and the general public when they re-broadcast lies without checking facts. This is a tyrannical abuse of power in a democratic society by our leaders. The facts matter.

"As far as we are aware, we are the only pro-life group who has a presence outside Blackfriars Medical Practice, yet these allegations are general and vague and they do not accuse us by name – a sure sign of lack of evidence.

"This is why we film all of our displays to defend ourselves against false allegations such as these. The burden of proof is on the accuser, and so far there is nothing but hearsay and opinions."

Reaction to the council's vote from the clinic provider

The manager of the BPAS Southwark treatment unit said: "I am delighted that the Southwark Council has voted to explore solutions to this important issue.

"The women who attend our clinics do so for a huge variety of reasons, and each individual woman deserves to have the right to access reproductive healthcare without being confronted by the views of others.

"Some women are accessing our services in the midst of unimaginably difficult circumstances, and for some vulnerable women anonymity is really important.

"We aim to offer a completely non-judgmental and supportive environment for all of our clients, to enable them to access safe terminations of pregnancy as well as other sexual health services.

"Protesters make this more difficult and the presence of protesters can be unnerving for both clients and staff. It can be intimidating and upsetting for people (women, their families/friends) who are often already working through a difficult period in their life."

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