Have your say, Ealing Council launches public consultation on ‘Safe Zone’ on Mattock Lane

On Monday 29th January, Ealing Council launched the online public consultation on their suggestion of a ‘safe zone’ and ‘designated area’ for prayer on Mattock Lane. If you have been affected in any way by the two decade-long vigil held outside Marie Stopes, please do fill this in and pass on to any other interested parties. Please note that you will need 20-30 minutes maximum to fill out the survey.

You can find the consultation here:

https://www.ealing.gov.uk/safezone

Whilst we welcome Ealing’s progressive decision, we have concerns about the suggested ‘designated area’ and wording within the consultation. We believe that the offering of ‘alternative services’ needs to be listed as forbidden activities, and feel to have a designated space to pray and intimidate people within a ‘safe zone’ is confusing to say the least.

27067702_1803174796650770_4348427814602236179_n.jpg

The above map shows the suggested zones on Mattock Lane. The designated area on the corner of Culmington Road would mean anti-choice protestors could see who is entering and leaving the clinic and accost them further down the road, away from the safe proximity of the clinic. It would also cause great congestion on the pavement, especially for those with wheelchairs and buggies trying to access the health centre. It would also mean that residents in that area would still be subject to great disruption, almost defeating the point of a safe zone. We believe Mattock Lane in it’s entirety should be covered in the safe zone to restore peace, dignity and respect to the area.

We did it!

Last night Ealing Council made history by being the first to take action against the harassment of women carried out by anti-choice groups at an abortion clinic. The full council meeting unanimously voted on a motion to “fully explore every possible option” taking all “necessary actions within its powers, utilising all necessary resources, to prevent anti-abortion protestors from intimidating and harassing women” at the Marie Stopes Clinic, Mattock Lane in Ealing.

Anna Veglio-White, founder of Sister Supporter, presented the petition to the council meeting and told of the terrible harassment women faced entering and exiting the clinic. One teenage client had been told by protesters that she would be “haunted by her baby”. Anna in immediate response to the overwhelming vote said “Today, I am really proud to say I am from Ealing“.

Sister Supporter are delighted by the outcome of the council meeting. We thank everyone who spoke on behalf of the women, of the clinic and the residents of Ealing. We welcome with cautious optimism the result, though appreciate the journey ahead will be a long but worthwhile one.

We want to thank all of the amazing people who turned up to show their support both inside and outside the Town Hall, and to everyone who has supported us over the last two years. This is only the start of the journey to bring this 22 year legacy of harassment to a close, but it is an important milestone and one that would not have been possible without the strength and determination of everyone who has supported this cause in the Ealing community and beyond. We hope that other councils and eventually the Government will follow, in protecting women from harm when accessing healthcare.

Home Affairs Select Committee

Yesterday the Select Committee looking into the issue of harassment at abortion clinics met to take evidence. This committee has been set up in response to the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, announcing a review of police powers to prevent intimidation. We went along to hear Ealing Council, Marie Stopes and BPAS give evidence. The Good Counsel Network and the Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child (SPUC) also spoke.

 

Julian Bell, Ealing Council leader, and Binda Rai, councillor for the Walpole ward, described the situation at Marie Stopes, Ealing and the process that the Council is currently following. Councillor Bell explained that negotiation with the anti-abortion groups who protest and ‘counsel’ at Marie Stopes was taking place but that a voluntary compromise was unlikely because those groups insist on having a ‘physical’ interaction with women entering the clinic. The Council are waiting for a report commissioned into other options for dealing with the problem before making the decision whether to implement a PSPO or other legal solution.

 

The speakers from Marie Stopes and BPAS gave evidence regarding harassment at clinics nationwide. The behaviours we have seen and documented in Ealing are replicated across the country. In some places even more extreme groups are active. What was important though, was the clear message that even just one person accosting women at the gate of a clinic is one person too many. If any woman feels intimidated and harassed when accessing these healthcare services then something must be done to prevent this. It was also made clear that the police, when contacted, did not feel that they had the appropriate powers to deal with the situation.

 

Clare Murphy from BPAS also gave evidence that some women encountering vigils and ‘pavement counsellors’ at clinics are either choosing to go to another clinic, thus delaying their treatment and putting themselves at risk, or are choosing a sub-optimal treatment (receiving both doses of the medication on the same day instead of separately). Members of the committee were visibly disturbed by this information.

 

All pro-choice parties were clear that, although a local solution should and will be sought in Ealing, a change in national legislation is essential to avoid creating a ‘postcode lottery’ situation where women in some areas are protected from harassment, whilst women in other areas are not.

 

Speakers from the Good Counsel Network and SPUC denied that any harassment took place at the clinics, at one point suggesting that BPAS, Marie Stopes and all the women who have given evidence of intimidation are lying. The GCN is now following a clear strategy of blaming Sister Supporter for all trouble at the Marie Stopes clinic, denying that their ‘counsellors’ upset women.

 

Yvette Cooper, MP, who was chairing the committee session kept all parties focussed on the subject of harassment, following our stance in Ealing that this is not about religious differences or debates of abortion law. In her questioning of she asked what the implications would be if no changes to national legislation and/or local regulation took place. It was clear from the responses that the anti-abortion groups will not voluntarily agree to move away from clinic gates, regardless of women’s rights to access these services free from intimidation.

 

Current legislation on harassment requires proof that one person is persistently harassing another individual. It does not provide for a situation where groups are persistently harassing multiple individuals on single occasions. For this reason we at Sister Supporter still believe that a buffer zone, or safe zone, is the only solution to this problem. We continue to work with Ealing Council in their efforts to protect women at Mattock Lane. In addition, we support all attempts to find a national solution, championed by Rupa Huq MP and the BPAS #backoff campaign.

 

Help BPAS to tell anti-abortion protesters to #BackOff. If you have encountered them outside a clinic, they would be grateful to hear from you. https://back-off.org/share-your-experience/

Amber Rudd calls for a review into anti-abortion protests

This week we welcomed the announcement by Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, to review police powers to prevent harassment and intimidation of women outside family planning clinics.

 

We’re cautiously optimistic, however, that a simple restatement of current police powers to tackle the problem would not be sufficient. Many of you who have dealt with Police at clinic ‘vigils’ will be familiar with the phrases ‘There’s nothing we can do’ and ‘This is a grey area”. We need to make sure that these local officers voices are head, the clinic staff are heard, residents are heard and most importantly the people using the clinic are heard.

 

Anna Veglio-White, our spokesperson, said:

 

‘There is an occasional police presence at the Ealing clinic, but we believe their current powers regarding protest and harassment are not suitable to deal with the situation faced daily by women visiting the clinic. This has gone on for far too long, and we will not stop until women and pregnant people are able to access legal healthcare services free from intimidation and harassment. 

.’

 

The Home Secretary’s announcement follows the concerted campaign for a national solution to the problem by Ealing Central and Acton MP, Rupa Huq. Ms Huq, who wrote a letter with support of 113 other MPs (including leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn and Leader of Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable) called on the Government to take action to stop this abuse of people using these clinics.

 

The campaign for national legislation has run in parallel to our local campaign, petitioning Ealing Council to set up an area of protection for women around the Marie Stopes clinic. In October 2017, we presented Ealing Council with a dossier of evidence of harassment, including photographs, video, audio and written witness statements and, as a result, Councillors voted unanimously to bring an end to the vigils outside the clinic.

Public Spaces Protection Order

Sister Supporter recently petitioned Ealing Council to consider a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) outside the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane, due to the anti-choice harassment that has taken place outside for over twenty years.
The requirements for a PSPO are that (a) activities carried on in a public place within the authority’s area have had a detrimental effect on the quality of life of those in the locality and (b) is, or is likely to be, of a persistent or continuing nature. We believe these requirements are met, and feel a PSPO would improve the quality of life for clinic users and residents alike.
This petition will be debated at a full Council meeting on Tuesday 10th October and we would love for as many supporters as possible to join us there, please see the key information below:
Council Debate: Public Spaces Protection Order
Ealing Town Hall
Tuesday 10th October
6.30pm onwards

1474363_10153294098813380_7629716383593295817_n