Back Off coalition calls on new Home Secretary to confirm commitment to review of protests outside abortion clinics

Posted 3 May 2018

Date: 03 May 2018

Type: FSRH News and Information

The coalition, of which FSRH is a member, has asked the new Home Secretary Sajid Javid to ensure that the review of protests outside abortion clinics announced by his predecessor Amber Rudd MP continues.

Amber Rudd MP, then Home Secretary, announced this review in November 2017 after a group of 113 cross-party MPs wrote to her describing the persistent intimidation and harassment that women accessing abortion care facilities across the UK are subjected.

For several years FSRH has pressed the case for buffer zones outside clinics – zones in which anti-abortion activity cannot take place. In our previous response to the Home Office review, FSRH made clear that we were aware of protests affecting both women and service staff. FSRH made the case that intimidating staff who are providing a lawful and necessary service and approaching potentially vulnerable women accessing these services are unacceptable means of promoting anti-abortion views.

Read the Back Off coalition letter in full:

Sajid Javid MP
Home Secretary
Home Office
2 Marsham Street,

Back Off Coalition
c/o Rachael Clarke
British Pregnancy Advisory Service
30-31 Furnival Street

1st May 2018

FAO: Sajid Javid MP, Home Secretary
CC’d: Nick Hurd, Policing Minister
Penny Mordaunt MP, Women and Equalities Minister

Dear Secretary of State,

Firstly, congratulations on your appointment as Home Secretary. We wish you all the very best in your new role.

We are writing to you as a coalition of 35 women’s advocacy and medical organisations which support the Back Off campaign. Back Off is campaigning for the introduction of buffer zones around pregnancy advisory bureaux and abortion clinics, to protect women from harassment and intimidation when they access confidential medical advice and treatment.

We wanted to take this opportunity to draw your attention to the ongoing review of protests outside abortion clinics being conducted by your Department.

Your predecessor announced this review in November 2017, after a group of 113 cross-party MPs wrote to her describing the persistent, daily abuse to which women accessing abortion services are subjected. When she announced the review, Ms. Rudd said: “While everyone has the right to peaceful protest, it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment”.

Protest activity outside abortion facilities can include women being told that they are ‘murderers’, the display of oversized posters with distressing and graphic images of aborted foetuses, being filmed entering and leaving clinics, and being given false information including that abortion will give them breast cancer.

The most heavily-publicised instance of this has been in Ealing, where the clinic on Mattock Lane has had a protest for more than 20 years. In an effort to combat the negative impacts on w omen and local residents, the Council have sought to make use of existing anti-social behaviour powers. The legislation for Public Spaces Protection Orders was not designed for this purpose, but councils have been left with no other option. It has been a long process – several years of work by highly committed volunteers and councillors who see the impact of thisactivity. Despite this, the decision is being challenged in the High Court at what will be a high cost to a local council only seeking to do what they can to protect their local residents.

Across the UK, 42 clinics have been subjected to these protests in the last year alone. To rely on this same action being taken by volunteers and councils around England and Wales is not a viable solution to this problem. Nor is the patchwork approach to the protection of women accessing medical treatment that would be the inevitable result of relying on councils to respond. This is a national problem in need of a national solution.

That is why we are asking this Government to bring forward legislation to introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics and pregnancy advisory bureaux, in which anti-abortion activity cannot take place. We believe limiting the ability to interfere with women as they try to access a lawful medical service in confidence does not represent an undue restriction on our existing freedoms.

Protesters have every right to campaign for greater restrictions on women’s reproductive choices and there are plenty of opportunities and locations in which to do so – however the space immediately outside a clinic should not be one of those locations. Women accessing pregnancy advice and abortion services are not seeking debate – they are trying to make their own personal decision about their own pregnancy.

During the course of the ongoing review, the Home Office received more than 1600 responses from members of the public in support of buffer zones, including hundreds from women who have personally experienced these protests while accessing services. At the same time, 69% of the public support banning anti-abortion activists from campaigning directly outside clinics.

We are also pleased to be able to tell you that a recent YouGov poll showed that 65% of MPs would support the creation of buffer zones around abortion clinics, with only 15% opposing, and that Conservative MPs would support these moves by nearly 2:1.

We are confident that you will ensure this review – fully examining all the options for addressing the issues raised by abortion clinic protests including the introduction of buffer zones – continues, and that you will act on its findings. We would be most grateful for confirmation of this commitment.

Please find attached to this letter a copy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service briefing on abortion clinic protests.

If you would like any more information, please do not hesitate to get in touch. We look forward to working with you.

Yours sincerely,
Rachael Clarke
Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager
British Pregnancy Advisory Service

on behalf of the Back Off Coalition

Members of the Back Off coalition:

Alliance for Choice
Antenatal Results & Choices
British Medical Association
British Pregnancy Advisory Service
Doctors for Choice UK
End Violence Against Women Coalition
Everyday Victim Blaming
Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare
FIAPAC (International Federation of Abortion and Contraception Professionals) Family Planning Association
The Fatherhood Institute
Forward UK
Green Party Women
Humanist Society Scotland
Humanists UK
Marie Stopes International
Medical Women’s Federation
Positively UK
Race Equality Foundation
Rape Crisis England & Wales
Reclaim Rosslyn Road
Reproductive Health Matters
Royal College of Midwives Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Scottish Women’s Aid
Sister Supporter
Stop Street Harassment
Unison University and College Union (UCU)
Women’s Aid
Women’s Resource Centre

Additional signatories:

Ealing Council
Erika Garratt, co-ordinator buffer zones petition (150,000 signatories)
Voice for Choice