Manchester

Manchester council supports abortion buffer zone plan

Manchester City Council has supported plans for a protest buffer zone outside abortion clinics.

Campaign group Sister Supporter has submitted a petition asking for a public space protection order (PSPO) to be introduced outside the clinics.

The communities and equalities scrutiny committee agreed with "the principle of the petition" and asked for work "to make that petition a reality".

Pro-life campaigners argue that vigils outside clinics are peaceful.

The petition from the Manchester Sister Supporter group earned more than 1,000 signatures, triggering Thursday's town hall debate.

'Alarm and distress'

The committee acknowledged that people attending the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield faced harassment and intimidation from protestors.

Eabha Doherty, from Sister Supporter, said every day women had to walk past "placards showing graphic images, boxes containing plastic foetuses and large groups of people praying alongside images of the Virgin Mary and mothers and babies".

She said people found them "very disturbing and they induce alarm and distress" for those trying to access the clinic and others who live locally.

Protesters are also handing out leaflets containing "medically unfounded" claims, she added.

Ealing Council was the first to introduce a buffer zone using a PSPO outside a clinic in 2018 - although that decision is facing a legal challenge.

Manchester City Council has been gathering evidence from local residents, staff at Marie Stopes, and pro-choice and anti-abortion campaigners.

It will now consult with the community, as well as the chief of police and local landowners, before making a decision about whether to introduce the PSPOs.

Robert Colquhoun, international director at pro-life organisation 40 Days for Life, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: "We organise peaceful, prayerful and legal vigils outside abortion clinics and have done in Manchester for 10 years.

"In that time we haven't had a single substantiated case of harassment anywhere in the UK. We believe in freedom of speech."

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