An abortion clinic in Bournemouth has become the fifth in the country to have a public space protection order (PSPO), which supporters say will help deter anti-abortion campaigners from harassing attendees and staff.
Joining clinics in Ealing, Twickenham, Manchester and Birmingham, the abortion centre in Bournemouth, run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (Bpas), will now have its very own ‘buffer zone’ - an area around the clinic where certain activities, such as protests, will be prohibited. Cllr Bobbie Dove, who looks after community safety for Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council, announced that the zone will cover six streets around the clinic and be in operation Monday to Friday, between the hours of 7am and 7pm, to cover its opening times. It will last for the next three years.
Those who do not adhere to the PSPO and are caught protesting, harassing, intimidating or photographing those entering the clinic could incur a fixed penalty notice of £100 or face a conviction at a magistrates court.
The decision comes after women have told of the “traumatic” experience of trying to access the clinic while being confronted and intimidated by anti-abortion protesters. NationalWorld has previously spoken to women who have been called “murderers” and “abominations”, or who have had to enter clinics when the ground outside is scattered with graphic foetus models, or while groups distribute leaflets containing misinformation about the links between abortion and cancer.
But these kinds of protests will no longer be permitted under the PSPO. Some of the actions restricted within the designated area include: protesting via “graphic, verbal or written means” and “holding vigils where members audibly pray, recite scripture, genuflect, sprinkle holy water on the ground or cross themselves if they perceive a service-user is passing by.”
Sister Supporter Bournemouth, one of the leading groups campaigning for the buffer zone, wrote on Twitter it was “elated” at the outcome, while Sister Supporter Ealing tweeted its congratulations as it claimed Bournemouth had faced “the worst anti-choice harassment outside a clinic in the UK”.
Ms Dove, portfolio holder for community safety and regulation on BCP Council, said: “Teams from the council and Dorset Police have worked extremely hard to understand the difficulties and experiences of people either visiting or working at the clinic. We tried to find a negotiated position, which could be agreed upon by all the parties involved, but this was unsuccessful.
“We then launched a two-month consultation on options for the area and the strength of support for the introduction of a PSPO was clear from the number of responses we received. Whilst we acknowledge the right of anyone to conduct a peaceful protest, we had to balance this against the distress caused or likely to be caused.”
Insp Joe Wheable of Bournemouth Police said: “Dorset Police recognises the rights of people to conduct peaceful protests, however we also recognise that everyone has the right to access medical services without being subject to distress.”
Cllr Millie Earl, deputy leader of the BCP Liberal Democrats group, said: "This is truly historic with only a handful of other local authorities addressing the issue of harassment at abortion clinics head on. Thousands of local people signed the Sister Supporter petition and the public consultation only confirmed support for the use of Public Spaces Protection Order legislation in protecting women accessing legal health care.
"Tomorrow, though, many more women will be subject to harassment outside clinics up and down the country. It’s time for the government to prohibit this damaging behaviour from anti-abortion groups and introduce a national ban on anti-abortion activity outside clinics."