A London council has moved a step closer to introducing a buffer zone around an abortion clinic run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.
Richmond Council voted in favour of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) around a clinic in Twickenham which, if it receives final approval at the next council meeting, will be the second such buffer zone to be introduced around a UK abortion clinic.
The PSPO will make it a criminal offence for pro-life groups and others to approach women going to the clinic with information about alternatives to abortion.
The PSPO, which falls under Britain's anti-social behaviour laws, will also make it a crime to offer prayer and counselling, or display any text or images relating to abortion.
The measures are set to be introduced despite no prosecutions ever being brought against people who have offered help outside the clinic.
The PSPO has been met with dismay by pro-life group Be Here for Me, which said it would stop vulnerable women from receiving information about the help and support available to them.
Spokeswoman for Be Here for Me, Elizabeth Howard, denounced the PSPO as she called for 'the return of common sense and better solutions' for women in need of help.
'The astonishingly broad nature of this PSPO shows that they are merely virtue signalling as opposed to protecting women, as they have deliberately chosen to outlaw charitable activity that has a profoundly positive impact for many vulnerable women,' she said.
'Harassment and intimidation is never acceptable outside abortion centres, and thankfully the council and police have wide powers to deal with any problematic behaviour. However, expelling pro-life vigil members at the behest of noisy activist groups in the absence of clear justification is extremely damaging for our society.'
Last year, Ealing Council was the first to introduce a buffer zone around a Marie Stopes abortion clinic. That decision is being challenged in the Court of Appeal.
In September, Home Secretary Sajid Javid dismissed calls for the implementation of buffer zones nationwide. He said at the time that a government review had found some instances of damaging behaviour outside abortion clinics but that these were not common.
'These activities are not the norm and, predominantly, anti-abortion activities are more passive in nature,' he said.
'The main activities reported to us that take place during protests include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets. Having considered the evidence of the review, I have therefore reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response.'
Alina Dulgheriu, who kept her baby after receiving help outside an abortion clinic, is spearheading the legal action against Ealing Council.
She said she was devastated that Richmond was planning to introduce a similar PSPO.
'What kind of society criminalises help and limits the choices available to vulnerable women?' she said.
'I met a lady outside of an abortion centre at the most desperate time in my life, when I had no one to turn to for help.
'All I was offered by the abortion centre was an abortion, and yet these kind strangers gave me the support I needed to continue with my pregnancy.'
She continued: 'Pro-life vigils offer life-changing support to vulnerable women at the gates of abortion centres, including financial and legal assistance, help with food and baby clothes, counselling and even accommodation.
'I am challenging Ealing in court because I cannot accept that women facing desperate situations will not be able to discover the extensive support that is available to them.'