ADF International

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Council move infringes on freedom of speech and assembly

Summary

  • Richmond Council passes far-reaching Public Spaces Protection Order around Twickenham abortion facility
  • Second instance of a censorship zone in London

LONDON (6 February 2019) – This evening, Richmond Council became the second London council to approve a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) banning prayer or offers of support outside a local abortion facility. The PSPO is aimed at banning pro-life activity outside a BPAS abortion facility on Rosslyn Road, Twickenham. As with Ealing’s controversial PSPO that was introduced last April, the Richmond PSPO criminalises “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval…with respect to issues related to abortion services, by any means, including, without limitation, graphic, verbal or written means, and including…any form of counselling or interaction with…BPAS clients or members of staff on the street.” It also explicitly outlaws “prayer directed at a BPAS client or a member of staff…” It will now be presented to the full council for approval.

“Only weeks after the Court of Appeal announced that it will review Ealing’s incredibly broad PSPO, Richmond Council has passed a similarly far-reaching measure that criminalises peaceful protest and free speech. Once again, a London borough has capitulated to an activist group and has disregarded the powerful evidence of vulnerable women gladly accepting the practical and emotional support offered by pro-life organisations outside of the abortion facilities. While the measure is purported to address “anti-social” behaviour, it goes far beyond what is reasonable or proportionate – banning even a simple offer of assistance.

It is very surprising that Richmond is proceeding to implement this PSPO, notwithstanding the fact that Ealing’s PSPO is still subject to a rigorous legal challenge on the grounds that it has violated fundamental civil liberties. Richmond’s PSPO has already attracted similar, if not higher, levels of criticism and is likely to result in another costly court challenge,” said Laurence Wilkinson, Legal Counsel for ADF International in London.

Concerning trend of censorship

Richmond’s PSPO comes after the Home Secretary’s announcement that it would be disproportionate to introduce censorship zones on a national level last September. These censorship zones particularly target pro-life groups who offer help and support to pregnant women who want to keep their babies. The first censorship zone introduced by Ealing was subsequently challenged by Alina Dulgheriu, a mother who accepted the offer of help to keep her baby from the Good Counsel Network on her way to an abortion appointment. Ealing’s PSPO was initially upheld by the High Court but now faces review by the Court of Appeal in July.

“Just like Ealing, Richmond has removed the only real choice women have in the name of ‘choice.’ This PSPO ignores the real experience of hundreds of women and is entirely disproportionate. It is a violation of freedom of speech, the importance of which has been so often reiterated by the European Court of Human Rights, especially when it comes to controversial topics like abortion,” said Robert Clarke, Director of European Advocacy for ADF International.

*This Press Release has been updated to reflect the fact that the PSPO will need to be ratified by the full council before it can be brought into force.

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