Individuals and organised groups have co-ordinated their activities outside abortion clinics in Lambeth for several years – often through protests and vigils. They have, in particular, targeted women seeking legal abortions causing upset, anger and intimidation to services users at a difficult and private moment in their lives.
Staff working at these clinics have also been targeted and, although no-one has ever been criminally convicted of harassment associated with this activity, the groups and individuals responsible for the behaviour cause distress and suffering to women and girls exercising their right to access health care.
Service users, members of the public and clinic staff will be able to report incidents immediately using their smartphones or tablets, by scanning the Quick Response (QR) code, or following the link www.lambeth.gov.uk/abortion-clinic-incident. The council wants to know how service users, members of the public and staff feel, and get a better understanding of any difficulties accessing the clinic or distressing language and materials used.
Word from the Cabinet
Cllr Jim Dickson, Lambeth Cabinet Member for the Voluntary Sector & Partnerships, said: “While everyone has the right to protest peacefully, it’s completely unacceptable for women to be subject to intimidation and harassment simply for exercising their legal right to access abortion services.
“When attending the clinics, women must walk past people bearing placards with graphic imagery and handing out leaflets with false or misleading medical information.
“We’re committed to protecting these women from this sort of anti-social behaviour. This tool will help us to identify intimidation and harassment whenever they happen outside Lambeth’s clinics, so we can tackle it for the good of the community.”
April Maddix, Operations Manager at Marie Stopes South London Centre, said: “We are really glad to see that Lambeth Council is taking this so seriously and this tool will make sure that all future incidents of harassment outside abortion clinics in the area are recorded.
“No-one who comes to us has taken their decision lightly and many of the people we speak to feel that their privacy has been seriously invaded at a time and place when they were most vulnerable.
“At Brixton, we have seen women subjected to graphic imagery, plastic foetuses and inaccurate leaflets addressing them as mum, but sadly the problem is much more widespread. Harassment outside abortion clinics is a national problem and deserves a national solution, which is why at Marie Stopes UK, we are calling on the government to legislate for Safe Access Zones outside all registered abortion care providers in the UK.”
Rachael Clarke, Public Affairs and Advocacy Manager at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), said: “We are delighted that Lambeth Council has decided to monitor this activity and its impact centrally – enabling them to see what is going on outside abortion clinics and, where necessary, to take appropriate action to protect the rights of our staff and clinic users.
“We hope that other councils will follow suit – enabling them to gather evidence and see the impact of this activity that our staff and clients live with every day.”
Early last year, Lambeth Council conducted a public consultation on whether or not it should introduce a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to address concerns about the activity of protests/vigils outside the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) Clinic in Streatham and the Marie Stopes Clinic in Brixton. The outcome of this consultation is now published on our website in conjunction, along with an explanatory statement, and can be found here. It should be noted that there was overwhelming support from local residents in respect of the action proposed.
Since the consultation ended, the council has discussed next steps with its key partners and those individuals and groups objecting to the introduction of the proposed PSPO and reflected upon how we might achieve a resolution that was effective, proportionate, and ultimately lawful. The council has decided not to proceed with making a PSPO at this stage – although that doesn’t remove the possibility of introducing a PSPO in relation to Lambeth’s abortion clinics in the future, should such a step be warranted.
The reporting form can be accessed on Lambeth’s public protection website or at the following link www.lambeth.gov.uk/abortion-clinic-incident.