Calls to ban anti-abortion protests from gathering outside Manchester clinic

  • Video report by Lise McNally

Anti-abortion protestors could be banned from gathering outside a clinic in Manchester after claims of staff and patients feeling intimidated or harassed.

People holding pro-life signs gather outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield most Saturdays, and two 40 day prayer vigils are held twice a year.

Pro-life campaigners pray, display posters and give out leaflets. Credit: MEN Media

The clinic says that because it provides a number of services aside from abortions, including counselling and contraception, the presence of demonstrators could put people off accessing vital help.

Manchester City Council is now holding a consultation on whether to introduce a protest "buffer zone" for streets around Marie Stopes.

Pro choice stand opposite and offer to escort people in and out of the clinic. Credit: ITV News

Why are people calling for a buffer-zone?

Staff at the Marie Stopes clinic say although they understand the right to freedom of speech, the doorstep of a medical facility is not an appropriate venue.

They say some service users are arriving "extremely upset", including vulnerable women who have been a vicim of domestic violence or sexual assault.

They've come to a very difficult decision, and have come to Marie Stopes for support with that decision. So when they get to the door and they are met with someone who is intimidating them and undermining that decision, it can be really really difficult.

Jessica Jones, nurse
Staff say they and service users have been handed cards covered in bible quotes.

Nurses working at the clinic tell us that it's also "scary" for them to have to walk past demonstrators to get to work - saying they've been called murderers, and followed up the street.

How could a buffer zone come about?

Charities and medical bodies have called on previous Home Secretaries to bring in buffer zones outside all abortion clinics.

But for now, any moves must be taken at local level via a "Public Space Protection Order".

A similar "safe zone" was introduced outside a clinic in London in 2018.

This map shows the proposed PSPO area. Credit: Manchester City Council

If introduced in Manchester, it could ban certain actions from taken place within the red lines marked on the map above, including:

  • engaging in any act of approval / disapproval respect to issues related to abortion services by any means - including graphic, verbal or written methods

  • interfering with a staff member or service user, verbally or physically

  • displaying any text or images relating directly or indirectly to the termination of pregnancy

  • playing amplified music, voice or audio recordings with respect to the approval or disapproval of abortion services

Who is backing the PSPO?

Credit: ITV News

A pro-choice campaign group called Sister Support Manchester also stand outside the clinic when demonstrations take place.

They offer to escort people in and out of the clinic.

Over the years they've been gathering evidence to submit to the city council demonstrating why they feel protests shouldn't take place on the same road.

I'm really pleased that the consultation has gone out to the public, and we're trying to get as many responses as possible so the buffer zone does get implemented. Women should be able to come in and out of the clinic without this happening.

Monika Neall, Sister Supporter Manchester
Seven people pray outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield. Credit: Sister Supporter Manchester

The council consultation runs until mid November.

After looking at the evidence and taking into account what people have told us, we have carefully considered a number of different options that could help us to reduce anti-social behaviour in the area. The introduction of a PSPO is one way to do this, therefore we are asking for your views on this proposal. By law, anyone has the right to access abortion care. We are committed to protecting people from harassment and intimidation, including when using health services.

Manchester City Council
These men told ITV News they don't deny a woman's right to choose, but believe it should be an informed decision. Credit: ITV News

What are the objections?

Pro-life campaigners argue that vigils outside clinics are peaceful and a democratic right.

One group who have a presence outside is called 40 Days for Life, who hold a 40 day vigil outside the clinic twice a year.

They told ITV News that they do not harass or intimidate anyone. In fact, two members say it's them who are frequent victims of intimidation:

The group added that they've helped nearly 100 women since 2012 - and say an exclusion zone would banish help from where it's needed most.

The essence of 40 Days for Life is to be the last sign of hope for anyone considering abortion and the first sign of support for anyone who has had an abortion. The whole point of the campaign is to encourage Christians to pray for an end to abortion and to be a sign of hope in the community, that there is a love out there for anyone who is in a crisis pregnancy. We are not there to judge, but to pray and support if needed.

40 Days for Life

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