Background Image

Ealing Council implements unprecedented ‘safe zone’ around local abortion clinic

by Jonathan Starck — Posted on 20 April, 2018

Ealing Council announce the unanimous decision to ban both pro-life and pro-choice activists from demonstrating outside Ealing’s Marie Stopes clinic. This decision has been heralded as the catalyst for such decisions being implemented across the country.

Abortion in England & Wales

The Abortion Act 1967 was created and passed to afford women across Great Britain (excluding Northern Ireland) much wider and legal access to abortions. Amendments have been made since then though overall this right has largely remained intact and untouched, marking over half a century of lawful abortions.

Divided public

There exist a relatively small but still considerable number of subjects in this country who are in favour of banning all abortions, including for women who have been victims of rape. A YouGov poll taken back in 2013 showed that, of the over 4,000 individuals included in the survey, around 7% of people supported this. Moreover, a 2011 MORI poll in which women’s attitudes to the subject were investigated showed that, of those who took part, 17% did not believe that such access to abortions should be permitted. This is a controversial area in which vastly differing opinions exist.

Demonstrations

An example of those who feel strongly are the members of The Good Counsel Network. For over two decades they have held almost daily vigils outside of the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane in Ealing. In recent years, Sister Supporter, led by Ealing’s own Anna Veglio-White, have held opposing demonstrations. The issues being debated are human rights against protections of the unborn and, by extension, a question of morality. The additional question arises as to what extent individuals should be entitled to pursue any action in the name of such a cause. One of the key issues here isn’t just the topic of abortion per se but whether activists should have the right to protest on the matter – and, of course, at the location in question.

Ealing Council’s decision

Ealing Council have unanimously voted in favour of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO), more commonly known as a ‘safe zone’, to be implemented outside of the clinic. This unprecedented decision means that neither pro-life nor pro-choice activists will hereby have the right to protest within 100m of the building. Many view this as a step in the right direction, setting a precedent by which other regional authorities across England & Wales may be set to follow suit. To these people there exists a very real fear of perceived psychological harm, often cited as harassment, and the argument is advanced that petitioning ordinary citizens on the doorstep of the clinic as opposed to lawmakers themselves is neither reasonable nor fair. Alternately, there are individuals, many of whom with no vested interest in this particular matter, who now fear that this precedent is but one step on the long march towards a form of authoritarianism. The fear here is that this decision could lead to individuals being barred from public demonstrations in other walks of life. This, for example, could include a ban of protesting outside town halls and other governmental buildings. Whether this line of thinking amounts to being a ‘slippery slope’ fallacy is up for debate.

Where do protections begin?

What about the rights of women who want access to these services? What of the protections of the unborn child? How are these rights and protections to be appropriately balanced? This notion of when we should confer protections on to an unborn being is interesting when considered in light of the development of our abortion laws. As already touched upon, the 1967 Act was the first time that widespread access to such services was permitted in the country. Following this, the courts decided to impose a 28 week limit on the termination of pregnancies. This decision was based upon the court’s understanding of when a child could survive being born. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, passed over two decades after the initial act, lowered this threshold to 24 weeks on the basis of technological improvements that would allow for infants to survive birth at this earlier stage. Therein exists a point of interest regarding the apparent link between technological advancements and certain human rights and protections. Is our perception of human rights and protections limited and/or driven by the technology that happens to have available to us?

How Starck Uberoi can help  

Starck Uberoi have a dedicated team of solicitors that specialise in Human Rights law. If you require any advice pertaining to your human rights please call or email our litigation team at solicitor@starckuberoi.co.uk . To make an appointment at our West London Ealing office located 10 minutes from Ealing Broadway station call 020 8840 6640. 

 

About Jonathan Starck

A Solicitor-Advocate, Jonathan heads the Litigation Department at the firm. He has extensive experience of representing clients at all levels from the Magistrates court to the High Court including litigation and applications for Judicial Review of ministerial decisions as well as representing appellants at the Court of Appeal. His specialist areas of practice include complex cases; litigation strategy and negotiation and he retains a healthy passion to remain client focused at all times.