The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has committed to support the Metropolitan Police and local boroughs working to stop the harassment and intimidation of women accessing clinics by anti-abortion protestors.
Local London Assembly Member, Dr Onkar Sahota, today called on the Mayor of London to ensure the Metropolitan Police work with Ealing Council to end the harassment of women accessing abortion services in the borough. He gained a commitment from the Mayor to ensure the Metropolitan Police and borough commanders will work with London councils to deal with this kind of anti-social behaviour.
Last month, Ealing council overwhelmingly passed a motion to protect the rights of individuals from harassment and intimidation when accessing legally existing health services at the Marie Stopes Clinic.
This came after local Ealing residents began campaigning for the public space outside Marie Stopes clinic, and all clinics in the United Kingdom, to be free from intimidation and harassment, allowing those who wish to exercise their legal right to healthcare to do so without interference and judgement.
Responding to a question from Dr Onkar Sahota AM at today’s Mayor’s Question Time, Mayor Khan said he fully supports the motion passed by Ealing Council and would take his lead from London councils about any particular issues he can help with in ensuring this local solution is effective.
Local Assembly Member Dr Sahota said:
“I am pleased the Mayor has been so supportive of Ealing council in what is a ground-breaking effort to end the harassment and intimidation of those accessing legally existing healthcare services. It is now time for the government to ensure the Metropolitan Police and the boroughs have the resources to deal with this kind of anti-social behaviour, and to explore whether existing powers are enough.”
Sister Supporter, the Ealing pro-choice campaign group, said:
“We are delighted that the Mayor has vowed to support local councils in their decision to end harassment outside reproductive health centres in London. We thank Dr Sahota for bringing this vital question to the Mayor. This is a huge step forward and we urge the Government to follow Ealing’s lead and introduce buffer zones nationwide.”
- 3,593 residents signed the Sister Supporter petition, “for Ealing Council to end the persistent presence of the anti-abortion vigil outside the Marie Stopes Reproductive Centre on Mattock Lane, Ealing”. See here
- Of the 61 councillors present at the full council meeting, 58 voted in favour of the motion, two abstained and in line with convention, the Mayor did not vote.
- The motion passed at the council meeting on 10 October 2017 was explicitly not one for or against abortion, which is available in Great Britain in the circumstances laid out in the Abortion Act 1967. It seeks to protect the rights of individuals from harassment and intimidation when accessing legally existing health services and of local residents not to be exposed to related disruption and distress on a daily basis.
- The Sister Supporter petition calls for a PSPO to be rolled out on Mattock Lane and that is one of a number of options Ealing Council will consider as a ‘buffer zone’ against anti-social behaviour
- Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs), introduced in 2014, sit amongst a broad range of powers and tools to help local authorities tackle anti-social behaviour. PSPOs are aimed at ensuring public spaces can be enjoyed free from anti-social behaviour and can provide an effective response to some of the issues local residents and businesses face on a daily basis. See here
- Dr Rupa Huq MP (Ealing Central and Acton) last month, on 50th anniversary of partial legalisation of abortion, coordinated a letter signed by 113 MPs from 5 parties to Amber Rudd, Home Secretary calling for buffer zones to be implemented outside abortion clinics nationwide.
- Dr Huq moved a debate on this issue on 7 November in the commons and said, “Ealing has been talked about as a test case, yet local government has suffered in the past 10 years. Ealing Council has had a cut of £168 million—half its operating budget—since 2010. Everyone is trying to do more and more with less and less. That is why we need a national solution at a time of unprecedented austerity in local government. The attacks on the budgets of police and local government make me think that the best solution is a national one, with new legislation to tackle this ongoing gendered street harassment—that is what it is.” See here
- The Home Office said: “This government is absolutely clear that the right to peaceful protest should not extend to harassment or intimidating behaviour. Where vulnerable women are harassed or intimidated, simply for exercising a legal right, we are clear that the police and the local authority should deal with it. We will carefully consider the important issues raised in this letter, and work with the police and local authorities to ensure they are able to make full use of their existing powers to prevent this kind of behaviour. We will also explore whether any further action is needed to ensure clinic staff and patients can go about their lawful business free from harassment, offence or alarm.” See here
- A survey of 101 parliamentarians found 57% supported Ealing Council's decision to stop anti-abortion groups from protesting outside a local clinic. See here
- Dr Onkar Sahota AM is the London Assembly Member for Ealing and Hillingdon