I co-signed a joint letter to Home Secretary Amber Rudd calling on the Government to bring forward legislation to introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics and pregnancy advice bureaux to protect women.
A full copy of the text of the letter can be found below:
RE: Buffer zones and women’s access to essential healthcare
I am writing to you, alongside my colleagues, subsequent to our recent exchange in the Chamber on the topic of buffer zones and persistent protests outside clinics that provide family planning and abortion services.
On the eve of the 50th Anniversary of partial legalisation of abortion in UK, shockingly women daily face abuse when undergoing terminations. In my own constituency, there have been groups of people stood outside the clinic at Mattock Lane for the past 23 years – following women, calling them ‘murderers’, and telling them that if they ‘change their lifestyles then they won’t end up back here’. In my colleagues’ constituencies they stand with oversized signs with distressing and graphic images of aborted foetuses, they film women entering and leaving clinics, and they distribute false medical information. In your own constituency, they livestreamed their actions during a protest near Hastings’ abortion clinic.
This is not a protest in the usual sense of the word. These people are not seeking to change the law – they are not campaigning to change the minds of our colleagues, or encourage parliament to review the legislation. Instead, they are targeting individual women who have come to a difficult decision and who are seeking to access lawful healthcare.
Existing legislation already provides for arrest when protesters are intentionally causing harassment, alarm or offence; it allows police to disperse protesters who are causing harassment, alarm or distress; and it prevents against harassment. But these powers are simply not being used.
In the case of harassment, existing legislation places an almost insurmountable burden on women accessing abortion care – to be subject to harassment more than once by the same people, to call the police, and to agree to talk to not only them but also a public court of law about her abortion. The expectation that a woman should be forced to make public her healthcare history in order to obtain justice against those harassing her is patently unreasonable.
As you know, last week, Ealing Council voted to make use of anti-social behaviour powers as a last-ditch attempt to stop the 23-year long harassment in their Borough. This was based on gathered evidence – videos, clinic logs, and testimony from residents. It has been a long process – several years of work by highly committed volunteers who wouldn’t take lack of action from central government as an answer to their efforts.
I know that you are eagerly awaiting the outcome of Ealing’s action - but this exhaustive work should not have to be the norm. As a society we should not be forced to rely on Good Samaritans and grassroots campaigners taking the time to do the job of government and protect our citizens from gendered street harassment. Because that’s what these protests are – a way of telling women that the decisions they make about their bodies and own futures are unacceptable, and that they deserve to have attention drawn to them in the most public, misogynistic, unsolicited way possible.
That is why I am asking you to bring forward legislation to introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics and pregnancy advisory bureaux – not to stop protests, but to ask protesters to instead make use of any of the many places they could protest – from parliament square to town centres to Speaker’s Corner. The women accessing clinics are not seeking debate – they are trying to make their own personal decision about their own pregnancy. And it must be our job as parliamentarians to protect that right.
Rupa Huq MP
Jess Phillips MP
Chair of the Women’s PLP
Harriet Harman MP
Mother of the House of Commons