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London council bans pro-life protests outside an abortion clinic
Placards and banners in support of a Public Space Protection Order are placed Oct. 27, 2017, outside the Marie Stopes Abortion Clinic by a pro-choice group in London. Earlier this month, the Ealing council voted in favor of enforcing a Public Space Protection Order to prevent anti-abortion groups from gathering outside the Marie Stopes clinic. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

London council bans pro-life protests outside an abortion clinic

The council in the borough of Ealing in West London has ruled that pro-life protesters must stay outside a “safe zone” around an abortion clinic. The motion passed the council unanimously.

Here’s what you need to know

The United Kingdom-based Catholic pro-life group, The Good Counsel Network, has protested outside a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in Ealing for years. Now the organization that runs that clinic has successfully petitioned the local government to keep them from doing so.

Marie Stopes is an international organization that provides contraception and abortion, similar to Planned Parenthood.

Clare McCullough, the director of The Good Counsel Network, told The Guardian, “The women we speak to are being offered a leaflet, offered help, and hundreds of women are accepting that vote. These are women who have no alternative but abortion – illegal immigrants, victims of domestic violence. We’re telling them there are alternatives if they want them.”

The ban will apply to all pro-life groups, not just The Good Counsel Network. For now, the ban appears to be limited to one Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing.

Richard Bentley, managing director at Marie Stopes UK, praised the decision:

We are incredibly grateful to Ealing Council for recognising the emotional distress that these groups create, and for taking proportionate action to protect the privacy and dignity of women accessing our clinic in the borough.

This was never about protest. It was about small groups of strangers choosing to gather by our entrance gates where they could harass and intimidate women and try to prevent them from accessing healthcare to which they are legally entitled.

Ealing Council has sent a clear message that this kind of behaviour should not be tolerated, and that these groups have no justification for trying to involve themselves in one of the most personal decisions a woman can make.

The Good Counsel Network insisted in a letter it sent to U.K. Home Secretary Amber Rudd that it does not intimidate women entering the clinic, show graphic images of abortion, or give inaccurate medical information, and that its actions are limited to handing out fliers and quietly praying from a distance.

What's next?

The Ealing council may be the first in the U.K. to pass such a law, but Birmingham, Manchester, Portsmouth, and two other London boroughs are all considering similar legislation.

Marie Stopes International received nearly $64 million from the U.S. Agency for International Development between 2013 and 2015, according to the Government Accountability Office. However, this has been discontinued since the signing of the Mexico City Policy by President Donald Trump, which prevents the U.S. government from funding groups that provide abortions in other countries.

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