The Times – Freedom of expression
Sir, We are writing to express our opposition to abortion clinic public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), in Ealing and other councils. We respect a woman’s right to abortion and her right to seek this service safely, without obstruction or harassment. However, we also defend the right to protest and freedom of expression.
Ealing council’s PSPO is so widely drawn as to impose potentially unlawful restrictions on fundamental rights, particularly the prohibition on “protest”, which includes “engaging in any act of approval/disapproval” by “any means” — including prayer.
Where groups interfere with access to abortion services — through harassment, abuse, obstruction or surveillance — this is already prohibited under law. For example, the Public Order Act 1986 prohibits causing harassment, alarm or distress and includes a specific power to impose conditions on assemblies that seek to intimidate others. However, abortion clinic PSPOs fail to make a distinction between activities causing objective harm and activities with which people disagree. We believe that this goes against longstanding principles of common law and human rights law, as well as the statutory guidance on PSPOs.
Josie Appleton, director, Manifesto Club; Silkie Carlo, director, Big Brother Watch; Jodie Ginsberg, CEO, Index on Censorship; Peter Tatchell, human rights campaigner; Simon Richards, CEO, Freedom Association