Calls for abortion clinic buffer zones rejected

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Media captionAre women seeking abortions being harassed?

Calls for buffer zones to be introduced outside abortion clinics to stop patients being harassed have been rejected by the home secretary.

Sajid Javid said such protest-free areas around UK clinics “would not be a proportionate response”.

He said a Home Office review found cases of harassment and damaging behaviour but they were “not the norm”.

Labour called it a “disgusting failure to uphold women’s rights” and called for Mr Javid to urgently reconsider.

The home secretary’s predecessor, Amber Rudd, has said it was “unacceptable” that anyone should feel intimidated at a clinic.

In a written statement, Mr Javid said the review had gathered evidence that showed protesters’ behaviour had left patients distressed and caused some to rebook their appointments and not to follow medical advice.

He said that in some of these cases, protesters handed out model foetuses, displayed graphic images, followed people, blocked their paths and even assaulted them.

However, he added that the review showed these activities were “not the norm” and most anti-abortion activities were “more passive”, such as praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets.

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In 2017, 363 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales carried out abortions – 36 of which experienced anti-abortion demonstrations, according to the review.

Mr Javid 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.”

He went on to say that there was already legislation – such as the Public Order Act 1986 – in place that restricted protest activities which cause harm to others.

In April, the west London council of Ealing took matters into their own hands, imposing a 100m protest-free “buffer zone” outside a Marie Stopes clinic.

But the constituency MP, Labour’s Rupa Huq, said it was a “national problem that requires a national solution”.

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Media captionNewsnight: Should there be ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics in Britain?

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott said Mr Javid had “given the green light for women to be harassed and abused for exercising their right to choose.

“This is a disgusting failure to uphold women’s rights over their own bodies. Sajid Javid must urgently reconsider,” the Labour MP said.

And her party colleague, Yvette Cooper, chairwoman of the home affairs select committee, said: “The whole point of having this review was because existing powers are not working or are proving cumbersome and difficult for councils or the police to use.”

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