Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has called on the government to introduce “buffer zones” around abortion clinics in response to reports that women are having difficulty accessing services due to harassment from protestors. She said:
Women should never be intimidated or threatened on their way to a healthcare appointment or on their way to work. No matter how strongly protesters feel about abortion themselves, they don’t have the right to harass, intimidate or film women who need to make their own very personal decision with their doctors. Everyone has the right to access legal healthcare, medical advice and supprt and to have some privacy and space to do so – and that includes abortion services.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas) has claimed that an increased number of protests outside clinics are intimidating women and interfering with their access to legally available medical treatment. Following the tactics of pro-life groups in the US, UK campaign groups like Abort67 and 40 Days for Life have taken to posting photographs they contend are of aborted foetuses outside clinics and filming women as they enter.
It’s claimed that one clinic has been closed as the “direct result” of protest actions which included blocking the entrance to the building.
Staff have also been targeted, with one worker at a Blackfriars clinic requiring a police escort to get to her car after leaving work. Abortion Rights, the national campaign for a woman’s right to choose, have called for the government to intervene after police at the practice said they “do not feel existing legislation gives them the space” to adequately control the situation. They claim that “[a]nti-abortion extremists” have “flooded the area”, specifically targeting a mother and baby.
Speaking to the New Statesman, Abort67 founder Andy Stevenson says that MPs are”gullible” and “being hoodwinked” by Bpas. He claims that the allegations of harassment are “completely false” and calls buffer zones an unecessary attack on free speech, “based on lies”.
Cooper explains that her proposal, which draws on legal remedies suggested by the US-based National Abortion Federation, would not prevent pro-life activists from protesting but would require them to stay a certain distance from patients:
Everyone should be allowed to hold legitimate protests. But they shouldn’t be intimidatory ones right in front of the doors of clinics – we don’t want US style abortion wars here. That’s why we need a new system of buffer zones which can be introduced to move the location of protests or prevent filming of staff and patients if problems arise.
An Early Day Motion also advocating for the creation of buffer zones was introduced in parliament last year by Caroline Lucas, and has been signed by Cooper’s fellow leadership contender, Jeremy Corbyn.