Abortion campaigners begin High Court challenge against council ‘buffer zones’

Campaigners are due to begin a High Court challenge against a council’s ban on demonstrations outside an abortion clinic.

Ealing Council was the first in the country to create a 100-metre protest-free “buffer zone” outside a Marie Stopes clinic in the west London borough.

Alina Dulgheriu, a representative for campaign group Be Here For Me, will begin her legal action against the authority’s decision at the Royal Courts of Justice in central London on Thursday.

The group describes the challenge as being against a “censorship zone” which “criminalises prayer and support” outside the clinic – arguing that it violates the human rights of residents and visitors, including the right to freedom of speech and prayer.

It says the challenge launched by Ms Dulgheriu, “who was supported by a pro-life vigil” outside an abortion clinic, was being brought to “ensure that the vital support options that pro-life vigils provide to women outside Ealing clinic are available again as soon as practically possible”.

Ms Dulgheriu, 34, said she was offered financial, practical and moral help, as well as accommodation, and now has a “beautiful” six-year-old daughter.

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) came into force in April after reports of “intimidation, harassment and distress” for women using the clinic on Mattock Lane.

John Hansen-Brevetti, clinical operations manager at the clinic, said women had been told the ghost of their foetus would haunt them, had been told “mummy, mummy, don’t kill me”, had holy water thrown on them and rosary beads thrust at them.

When filing case papers at the High Court in April, Ms Dulgheriu said: “Without sufficient justification, Ealing Council has decided to criminalise otherwise lawful behaviour, to criminalise charitable activity that is needed by some of the most vulnerable women in our society.

“I am asking that justice be done for those women who have been ignored by Ealing Council.”

She said: “I never expected a local council in the UK to make a decision that violates so many human rights; the right to free speech, the right to pray, the right to receive information and the right to assemble.

“As an immigrant who loves so many of your traditions, I never expected to have to defend the rights that keep a healthy British democracy alive.”

She said: “I cannot put into words the joy, the beauty and the love that my daughter has brought to my life.

“She would not be with us today if it weren’t for the vigils that Ealing Council has criminalised.”

The council says campaigners remain free to demonstrate, as long as they do so outside of the zone.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2018, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) John Stillwell / PA Wire.