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Protecting abortion clinic patients is 'matter for the police,' Nick Hurd says


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But he is willing to consider arguments that new legislation is needed.

Policing Minister Nick Hurd

The government is open to considering new legislation to address the horrific harassment of abortion clinic patients and staff, the policing minister has revealed.

Women attempting to seek medical advice or to terminate their pregnancies at the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, London have been subject to intimidation from pro-life protesters for decades.

The protesters have been known to call patients "murderers", push plastic foetus dolls into their hands and confront them with graphic images of aborted foetuses as they enter the family planning clinic.

Ealing councillors last month voted to consult on using a public space protection order to stop pro-life groups protesting outside the Marie Stopes clinic, but MP for Ealing Central and Action Dr Rupa Huq is fighting for a national and permanent response.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act 1967.

Last week she moved a motion at Westminster to consider whether current public order legislation is fit to address the issue.

She said the anti-abortion groups "have had me seething with rage since the 90s."

“Women are told they’ll be haunted by the ghost of their baby and presented with faux medical misleading leaflets ," she added.

"People talk about protest but this isn’t protest, this is harassment. I recognise the right to protest but the turmoil by calling someone 'Mummy Mummy' at the 11th hour is just not constructive or useful.”

“My local police have long told me that public order legislation is insufficient to do anything about what in some ways they’ve described it as a kind of stand off between the two groups

“There is a sense rather like the Westminster scandal that things cannot go on as they are. It’s unsustainable

“This is not just an Ealing issue. It happens in Portsmouth, Durham… anyone who has a clinic in their seat is very supportive because they know what goes on.

“What I’m calling for in this debate is durable lasting solution.”

She said although there is grey is existing legislation - needs to be made clear.

“Both the attacks on police and local government budgets make me think a national solution is needed," she said.

Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott said: “What is problematic about these demonstrations is that they’re modelling themselves on American tactics.

"I’m not saying these women will take it that far but let us remember in America there have been bombings and medical staff and in doctors have found themselves threatened and attacked.”

“What I have seen tells me this is not a way to offer people practical advice. Many of these groups also oppose contraception, sex education even IVF fertility treatment.

“Fifty years after this house decided women have a right to choose it would be entirely wrong if now this house failed to stand up and say that choice should be meaningful and should not be disrupted and opposed by these demonstrations. There is no question we have to look at the question of [buffer] zones.”

Minister for Policing Nick Hurd said the Home Secretary Amber Rudd had taken a personal interest in this and as monitoring what is happening in Ealing closesly.

He said: “We do believe, but we’re open to argument on this, that the law provides protection against such behaviour.

“The government is absolutely clear it is unacceptable that anyone should in anyway feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right for healthcare advice.

“In terms of police powers, in management of protests police have a duty to facilitate peaceful protest.

“How and when these powers are used is an operation judgement for police no getting around that. As part of our work I will ask relevant national police leaders to make sure those powers are used.”

But he invited Dr Huq to give evidence if she feels current legislation was not fit for purpose.

“I am open to that argument," he said. 

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