Richmond Council taken to High Court over buffer zone banning pro-life vigils.

23 May 2019

 
Counsellors are now banned from offering women help outside the BPAS clinic in Richmond.

"I will challenge the PSPO in Richmond for mothers who need help in the future, at the place they need it most.”

Legal proceedings have been launched in the High Court against Richmond Council to challenge a controversial Public Space Protection Order (“PSPO”) around an abortion clinic on Rosslyn Road.

This buffer zone makes it a criminal offence to, among other things, pray or have conversations about abortion. The legal challenge has been brought by Justyna Pasek, who has personally supported women visiting the abortion clinic in Richmond for over five years, offering them alternatives to abortion.

Criminalising "directed" prayer

In March, Richmond Council voted unanimously to ratify an earlier decision to implement the PSPO and so ban the peaceful pro-life prayer vigil primarily run by the Good Counsel Network.

Richmond is the second council after Ealing to use a PSPO (which replaced ASBOs) to prevent people praying and offering help to women outside an abortion clinic. Like at Ealing, concerns have been raised by Liberty and other organisations about the provisions of the order being too broad and too vague to render it proportionate. The PSPO makes it a criminal offence to make any offer of help to women on Rosslyn Road, and bans "directed" prayer and counselling.

Fighting in the courts

A legal challenge was brought against Ealing Council by Alina Dulgheriu, a mother who was helped by pro-life vigils. The High Court upheld the PSPO last year, but the case is set to be heard by the Court of Appeal on 16th July.

In a blow to abortion advocates, the Home Secretary last year rejected nationwide buffer zones. Despite their efforts to characterise peaceful pro-life vigils as violent protests where women are harassed, a review commissioned by the Department found that "the main activities reported to us that take place during protests include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets." 

Denying help to vulnerable women

Ms Pasek said: “I understand what is at stake in Richmond because I have stood outside that abortion clinic many times and offered women alternatives to abortion.

“I have met hundreds of women who just needed a little help, at the right time and in the right place, in order to keep the child that they desperately wanted," she went on. "The women in these situations are often very scared and vulnerable. Many of these women are being coerced into abortion and others just want the choice of exploring other options…

 “Because of the censorship zone in Richmond, I can no longer offer help where women need me the most," Ms Pasek said. "I cannot stand back and allow Richmond Council to introduce a draconian censorship zone that prevents real choice for women. I will challenge the PSPO in Richmond for mothers who need help in the future, at the place they need it most.”