Richmond Council bans pro-life campaigners from offering help to women outside abortion clinic

It will now be a criminal offence to offer help or prayer to women visiting the BPAS Richmond clinic in Twickenham(Photo: Google Street View)

Pro-life campaigners will no longer be able to offer help and support to women going to an abortion clinic after Richmond Council voted to introduce a buffer zone.

The Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) criminalises any form of interaction with staff or visitors to the clinic run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service in Twickenham.

Cllr Liz Jaeger, Richmond Council cabinet member for community safety, said the decision was necessary to protect the human rights of women and staff at the BPAS clinic. 

'For a number of years the users of the BPAS Clinic, staff in the area and the residents in the vicinity of Rosslyn Road have expressed concern about the protests/vigils being held outside the clinic,' she said.

'Following a thorough consultation, there was overwhelming feedback that the vigils were having a detrimental effect on them or others in the local area.

'In making this decision the Council has determined the PSPO strikes the right balance, protecting the human rights of the patients and staff of the BPAS Clinic to use the services and go to work without fear and in privacy.' 

Of the more than 3,000 responses to the council's consultation, eight in ten people said the vigils were detrimental to those living in the area and that a buffer zone should be introduced.

The decision was made to impose the buffer zone despite several women who were helped by pro-life counsellors outside abortion clinics presenting their positive testimonies to Richmond Council. 

Pro-life campaigners maintain that the vigils have been peaceful, with counsellors praying or offering information leaflets about the help available to women considering an abortion.

Under the PSPO, pro-life campaigners will no longer will be able to make direct offers of prayer or counselling, a move they say amounts to censorship and will prevent women from being able to find out about the other options available to them.

The Good Counsel Network, one of the groups that has been running vigils outside the clinic, said it was praying for the women affected. 

The group says on its website that all vigil volunteers must sign a 'statement of peace' affirming that 'they will behave in a non aggressive and non harassing manner'.

The Be Here For Me campaign group denied that vigil volunteers had engaged in a harassing or intimidating way. 

Elizabeth Howard, spokeswoman for the Be Here For Me campaign said: 'It is shocking to see how Richmond has acted on allegation rather than evidence in bringing in this censorship zone.

'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.

'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.

'This is Richmond Council saying "You're on your own" to the brave women who testified about the help they received when they had nowhere else to turn. We look forward one day to the return of common sense and better solutions for the women in real need of help.'