Portsmouth council to look at buffer zones outside abortion clinic following debate
A BUFFER zone outside the city's abortion clinic is set to be explored after councillors passed a motion calling for the idea to be looked at.
It follows scuffles between pro-choice and pro-life campaigners outside the BPAS clinic at St Mary’s health campus last month after tensions rose between the two parties.
Councillors on the city council voted in favour of Councillor Will Purvis’ motion by a vote of 31 to one, with eight choosing to abstain.
It means Portsmouth becomes the second UK authority this year following Ealing Council.
Cllr Purvis said a buffer zone would give the council ‘greater powers to protect residents from harassment.’
‘I am very pleased with the outcome. It was always going to be a difficult debate but it shows that the council is committed to protecting the women of Portsmouth from fear of harassment,’ said the Liberal Democrat
Fellow Lib Dem councillor Lynne Stagg gave an emotional speech in favour of the motion, in which she recalled experiencing the miscarriage of her fourth child the day before she was due to have an abortion.
She said: ‘If I had to walk past a group like that, it would have destroyed me emotionally..
‘Nobody has the right to harass anybody else. Freedom of speech is important unless it has an impact on other people.’
Independent councillor John Ferrett also backed the motion, stating the act of protesting against women attending the clinic to carry out an abortion was ‘reprehensible’.
‘It seems to me to be completely and wholly unjustified,’ he said.
A buffer zone outside the campus would lead to more protestors coming to the city, according to Councillor Lee Hunt.
He said the protests could become larger, that the police would get further involved and arrests could follow ‘in due course.’
On the other side of the argument, Tory councillor Steve Hastings, who was the only councillor to vote against the motion, said it would defer ‘freedom of speech.’
He said: ‘I am on the side of giving people the right to protest and have the freedom of speech.
‘The right to showcase one’s freedom of speech is one that should be upheld and I feel that the police should be dealing with harassment.’
Independent group leader Councillor Paul Godier stated the motion singled out one area when it should be looked at for all hospital and health campuses if it was going to be brought forward. He supported the motion.
The scuffles broke out between Portsmouth Pro-Choice and 40 Days for Life Portsmouth after the latter had spent a number of weeks outside the clinic protesting.
The group, which declines it was protesting and was praying instead, said it has never ‘harassed or intimidated anyone’ at the clinic and that a buffer zone could prove to be ‘socially divisive.’
A report looking into a series of options, such as a public space protection order (PSPO) will now be prepared.