Decision due on legal challenge against abortion clinic protest ‘buffer zone’
Anti-abortion campaigners oppose the groundbreaking move by Ealing Council.
Campaigners are to learn the result of their bid to win a ruling that a council’s ban on demonstrations outside an abortion clinic is “unlawful, invalid and unjustified”.
Ealing Council was the first in the country to create a 100-metre protest-free “buffer zone” outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the west London borough.
Lawyers for Alina Dulgheriu, of the Be Here For Me campaign, say the authority did not have the power to make the public spaces protection order (PSPO), which came into force in April after reports of “intimidation, harassment and distress” for women using the facility on Mattock Lane.
Clinical operations manager John Hansen-Brevetti said women had been told that the ghost of their foetus would haunt them, had been told “mummy, mummy, don’t kill me”, had holy water thrown on them and rosary beads thrust at them.
Ms Dulgheriu, 34, said she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation, and now had a “beautiful” six-year-old daughter.
Mr Justice Turner – who will give his decision at London’s High Court on Monday – has heard that the group’s case was not about the “morality or legality” of abortion, or whether women considering an abortion should be protected from harassment or intimidation.
Counsel Alasdair Henderson said it was agreed that such behaviour – which was emphatically denied – was wrong and should be prevented.
He argued that the court should declare the PSPO unlawful, invalid and an unjustified interference with the group’s rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
If it was upheld, it would have wide ramifications for freedom of expression and assembly and set a dangerous precedent, he added.
It was an “inappropriate tool” to tackle the issue and “inherently disproportionate” in the circumstances of a “peaceful and lawful vigil”.
Kuljit Bhogal, counsel for Ealing, said the authority had to balance the group’s rights with those of the service users, clinic staff and others in the locality upon whom the activities were having a detrimental effect.
“In what has been a delicate balancing exercise, the council has facilitated the activities of the pro-life and pro-choice groups by providing a designated zone where they can continue their activities,” he said.
The PSPO allowed the group to continue their work with little or no impact on them save for a different location.
This was in stark contrast to the impact on others were the PSPO to be suspended.