Southwark is one step closer to introducing a ‘buffer zone’ outside an abortion clinic to stop pro-life campaigners “intimidating or harassing” women.
The council has voted unanimously to explore options to set up a perimeter around the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) abortion clinic at Blackfriars Medical Practice, in Colombo Street.
If given the go ahead, Southwark would become the third local authority in the country to introduce such measures, following in the footsteps of Ealing and Portsmouth councils.
Anti-abortion protesters are said to have campaigned outside the Blackfriars clinic for at least three years, and to have had “emotional and distressing images” and “body cameras” capturing those going into and out of the building.
Cathedrals ward Liberal Democrat Councillor David Noakes proposed a cross-party motion to investigate installing a buffer zone outside the clinic at a council assembly meeting last Wednesday, November 29.
Cllr Noakes said women “have the right to access a legal and safe abortion without feeling intimidated and harassed”. “It’s been 50 years since the Liberal MP David Steel changed the law to give women the right to a legal and safe abortion,” he said.
“Some people disagree with that, and they have the right to campaign and lobby for a change in the law.”
Cllr Barrie Hargrove, Southwark Council’s cabinet member for communities, safety and leisure, said the motion was “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”.
“The council will work together with BPAS, other interested local authorities, clinics, residents and the other necessary organisations to consider next steps,” he added.
BPAS Southwark’s treatment unit manager said they were “delighted”.
“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,” said the unit manager.
“Some women are accessing our services in the midst of unimaginably difficult circumstances, and for some vulnerable women anonymity is really important.
“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.”
The News previously reported on Neil Coyle MP’s calls for Southwark to follow suit after Ealing council voted in favour of a motion to stop anti-abortion groups protesting outside Marie Stopes clinic.
The Bermondsey and Old Southwark Labour MP said he was “very keen to see a Southwark equivalent of the Ealing proposal” but that he would “like it to be fairly stronger”.