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Campaigners await UK decision on abortion clinic buffer zones | Abortion

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Campaigners calling for buffer zones to prevent harassment and abuse of women accessing abortion centres are expecting a Home Office announcement within weeks.

The Labour MP Rupa Huq, who leads a cross-party campaign calling for national legislation following the model of the UK’s first abortion clinic safe zone in Ealing, west London, said the home secretary had pledged an announcement in September.

A review had been taking place under the former home secretary Amber Rudd, but had stalled under Sajid Javid, despite the promise of a decision in July.

Javid has now written to Huq apologising for the delay. “As you will understand, this is a very complex and sensitive matter, and one which I am taking very seriously,” his letter said.

“As I am sure you will appreciate, I did not want to respond prematurely without having taken a fully considered view. I can confirm that I plan now to make an announcement in September. I would be happy to meet with you to discuss the review’s outcome following this announcement.”

In April, Ealing council became the first local authority to apply a public spaces protection order (PSPO) for the area around a Marie Stopes clinic to protect women attending from distress and intimidation.

Campaigners, MPs and councillors said a safe zone was necessary after women entering the clinic were called murderers and shown photographs of foetuses.

At the time eight other councils in England were said to be considering setting up similar buffer zones after pro-choice groups said the number of “intimidating” protests was on the rise.

Ealing’s decision to create a 100-metre, protest-free “buffer zone” around the Marie Stopes clinic was upheld at the high court in July.

Huq, the MP for Ealing Central and Acton, said of Javid’s pledge: “I was promised the outcome for the week of July 23 and am now being told it’ll be September. I am not sure how much longer they can string this out.

“In the meantime, Ealing council has undertaken a consultation and implemented a public spaces protection order around our Marie Stopes clinic. Even the legal challenge from an anti-abortion group funded from the USA has been rejected by the high court.”

She added it was “a national problem that requires a national solution as 170 MPs demanded in a letter to the home secretary in May”.

Campaigners have argued that protests amount to harassment and intimidation and say Britain is increasingly influenced by US-style tactics of “pavement counselling” in which women are waylaid as they enter clinics. Anti-abortion groups deny this and say they hold prayer vigils and claim to offer support and counselling to women as they enter abortion clinics.

A British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) spokeswoman said the departure of Rudd as home secretary had been a blow to the campaign, but hopes were high for a positive outcome. “We remain optimistic the government will bring forward legislation.

“The buffer zone in Ealing has had a huge impact on women’s experience of accessing abortion care but we know women face harassment and intimidation on a daily basis at other clinics.

“We don’t believe every council is going to be able to put in the same time and resources as Ealing, and that’s why we believe national legislation is needed”.

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