Richmond Council’s abortion clinic PSPO: Manifesto Club response

Richmond council is planning a PSPO targeting anti-abortion protests outside an abortion clinic on Rosslyn Road. Here is the Manifesto Club response to this proposal.

Dear Richmond Council,

The Manifesto Club would like to register its opposition to your proposed text for a PSPO, on the grounds that the text is too broad, and fails to target harmful or nuisance detrimental behaviour. We specifically object to the prohibition on

Protesting, namely engaging in any act of approval or disapproval or attempted 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, for the avoidance of doubt, any form of counselling or interaction with residents or BPAS clients on the street.

This prohibition includes several extremely vague categories of behaviour (including ‘attempted disapproval’ or any ‘interaction’), which need not cause nuisance to the clinic’s clients, nor interfere with women’s lawful right to seek abortion services.

The other suggested PSPO conditions have at least the merit of targeting the harmful behaviour, as is required by the Statutory Guidance on PSPOs.

Therefore, it is our view that the protesting clause is unreasonable and unlawful, and fails to comply with the Statutory Guidance on PSPOs. It represents an unreasonable restriction upon the freedom of assembly and expression in a public street (and therefore we cannot agree that you have given due regard to these rights in drafting the order).

We would urge you to consider alternative means of tackling problems with the protests, such as use of existing legal powers. We note that you considered the use of the Public Order Act, and other powers, but seem to have rejected these on the basis that the police may not be convinced that the protests are ‘unreasonable’. We would suggest that if this is the case, then the protests should not be restricted by law: it is only unreasonable and harmful conduct that should be targeted by criminal legal powers.

It may be the case that the conduct of some of the protesters constitutes harassment or intimidation of clients; in these cases, these individuals should be prosecuted, or prevented (through the use of legal orders) from continuing their protest.

But a PSPO should not be used as a ‘soft option’, simply because it is easy to obtain and lacks the burden of proof associated with other legal powers.

Women have the right to access to abortion services in an atmosphere free of harassment, intimidation, or emotional blackmail. Protests should not be allowed to interfere with the work of the clinic. And yet PSPO conditions should not be defined so broadly that they impose blanket restrictions on public expression in a public street.

We would urge you to reconsider this order, particularly the section 1(a) restriction on protest. We suggest that an attempt should first be made to use existing legal powers to deal with instances of harassment or intimidation, and only if this proves ineffective then a targeted PSPO be considered, clearly focused upon the behaviour causing nuisance or harm.