Government accused of treating woman as ‘collateral damage’ as abortion buffer zones rejected

Campaigners have accused the Government of treating thousands of women as “acceptable collateral damage” after it rejected calls to introduce national buffer zones outside abortion clinics.

Introducing protest-free areas outside clinics to prevent harassment of patients “would not be a proportionate response”, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said.

His decision was slammed by politicians, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who called it a “shocking failure to protect women” and urged the Home Secretary to reverse it.

While a Home Office review found examples of harassment and damaging behaviour, such as the handing out of model foetuses, displaying graphic images and blocking patients’ paths, these activities were not the norm, Mr Javid said.

He said: “Having considered the evidence of the review, I have therefore reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature.”

The Home Secretary acknowledged all anti-abortion activities, passive or otherwise, can have an adverse effect and he expressed his sympathies to women impacted.

The review received more than 2,500 responses from abortion service providers, abortion service clients, anti-abortion demonstrators, police forces and local authorities.

Some 36 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales reported demonstrations outside their facilities. Of these, a small number reported aggressive activity, the Home Office said.

The main activities reported as having taken place during protests included praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets.

Sister Supporter, a group which successfully campaigned for a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) outside a Marie Stopes clinic in west London to protect women from harassment, said it was “disappointed and frustrated”.

The group said: “Presumably the thousands of women affected at ‘only 36’ hospitals and clinics are acceptable collateral damage to Sajid Javid, who has not offered any other potential solution to this well-documented problem of harassment and intimidation, preferring instead to state that current police powers should suffice.

“This goes against all evidence presented both to the national consultation and to the Select Committee that current police powers are not sufficient to address this issue.”

They added: “That the Home Office has reviewed this evidence for seven months and has failed to come up with any recommendations other than the status quo is frankly insulting to women everywhere.”

The leading provider of abortion services in the UK, bpas, said it would look to roll out the successful Ealing model to affected clinics and warned it would continue to push for national legislation if Mr Javid’s suggestions of current remedies did not prove effective.

Alina Dulgheriu, a representative for campaign group Be Here For Me, decided not to have an abortion after being handed a leaflet by a woman outside the clinic.

She thanked Mr Javid and said her “beautiful” daughter would not be here today had she not received the support.

She said: “Inside an abortion clinic the only thing they offer is abortion but these women can offer so much more; counselling, financial assistance, help with food, baby clothes and rent among many other things.

“The announcement today means that women who are in similar situations to me will not be denied this life-changing help when they need it most, outside the abortion clinic.”

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the world’s oldest abortion opposition group, said they were “delighted” by the move.

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