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Prayer vigils outside Twickenham abortion clinic banned

by Cara Bentley

A Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) criminalises any form of interaction with people going into the BPAS abortion clinic on Rosslyn Road in Twickenham.

The ban, which would affect the pro-life group the Good Counsel Network, also includes "protests that affect residents in Rosslyn Road Twickenham and surrounding roads".

It has been implemented by Richmond Council following a meeting on Tuesday.

The PSPO was approved by the council's Regulatory Committee on 6th February, but required the ratification of the full council.

Activities which are now banned include protesting or engaging in any act of approval or disapproval to abortion services, such as graphic, verbal or written means and any form of counselling or interaction with residents or their visitors.

The Good Counsel Network argue that they never use images of aborted babies and were there to offer alternative advice to that offered by BPAS.

Intimidating or harassing a BPAS client or a member of staff is forbidden, as is recording or photographing a patient or staff member of the clinic or displaying any text or images relating to the termination of pregnancy.

If found in breach of these rules, a member of a pro-life group could be fined £80, reduced to £50 if paid within ten days.

The pro-life group Be Here For Me said Richmond Council could not substantiate the serious allegations made against vigil members.

Th group added: "Investigating council officers had only observed peaceful activities such as handing out of leaflets, prayer and the display of placards. In 2014, local police were forced to withdraw a threat to disperse the pro-life vigil using public order legislation in the absence of any evidence."

Richmond council have said they made the decision after a consultation period with the public and after concerns were raised by local group Reclaim Rosslyn Road.

The council said results of the consultation indicate that support for a buffer zone was "almost unanimous".

However, the Be Here For Me campaign have voiced concerns over the framing of the consultation questions. The campaign has also highlighted that people had a misinformed understanding of the actions of vigil members, and a decision was made to exclude over 1,000 responses to the consultation from Be Here For Me supporters.

Elizabeth Howard, spokeswoman for the Be Here For Me campaign said: "It is shocking to see how Richmond has acted on allegation rather than evidence in bringing in this censorship zone. The astonishingly broad nature of this PSPO shows that they are merely virtue signalling as opposed to protecting women, as they have deliberately chosen to outlaw charitable activity that has a profoundly positive impact for many vulnerable women.

"Harassment and intimidation is never acceptable outside abortion centres, and thankfully the council and police have wide powers to deal with any problematic behaviour. However, expelling pro-life vigil members at the behest of noisy activist groups in the absence of clear justification is extremely damaging for our society."

St Margaret's train station was also added to the buffer zone.

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