New measures to stop protestors targeting women outside Lambeth’s abortion clinics are on hold, the council has finally admitted, despite responses to a consultation being “overwhelmingly in favour” of the measures.
For years, women and girls using the Marie Stopes Clinic on Brixton Hill and the BPAS on Leigham Court Road, Streatham, have been subjected to the views of anti-abortion groups protesting directly outside the entrance to the clinics.
The protestors hand out leaflets with misleading information about abortion, and hold up graphic posters, aiming to dissuade women from using the clinics’ services. These activities violate women’s privacy as they enter the clinics and cause unnecessary additional distress at a time of high vulnerability.
In February 2018, Lambeth Council consulted on the possibility of bringing in a Public Space Protection Order to create a buffer zone that would mean women could enter the clinics without being approached by protestors or having to walk past distressing images.
Although more than a year has passed, the council has never released the consultation results or updated residents on their decision regarding the buffer zone.
A group of local activists, including Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate for Streatham Helen Thompson, has been pushing for transparency on the decision. They met with Councillor Jim Dickson, Cabinet Member for Community Safety, on 27th March for an update, after which he wrote to Helen Thompson.
In his letter, Cllr Dickson said that Lambeth residents responded “positively by very large margins” to the proposed PSPO. Nevertheless, fears that the measure would not stand up to legal challenge mean that it is now on hold until further evidence of the problem is collected.
The activists have therefore decided to put in place systematic monitoring to document the scale of the problem, and are looking for a wider set of residents to support the effort.
“The Conservatives’ refusal to create legislation at a national level that would stop harassment of women outside abortion clinics has left councils like Lambeth struggling to implement buffer zones,” Helen Thompson said. “They fear legal challenge because the scale of the problem in Lambeth is not as great as it is in places like Ealing.
“We believe that not a single woman accessing her legal right to reproductive healthcare should have to face this distressing behaviour. That’s why we’re working to properly document evidence of protests to support both the local and national buffer zones campaigns.”
The group is organising a team to monitor the clinics at times when protests are most likely. If you can spare an hour or two every couple of months, or if you are frequently near the clinics on weekends, please get in touch to help out by emailing [email protected]