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Campaigners lose latest legal fight against protest-free zone outside abortion clinic

Jacob Jarvis

A court has ruled against an appeal challenging the country’s first protest-free “buffer zone” outside an abortion clinic.

Campaigners lost their Court of Appeal bid against the area, outside a clinic in Ealing, west London.

Three leading judges dismissed calls to reverse an earlier ruling, which said restrictions imposed by Ealing Council on protests outside a Marie Stopes clinic were "justified".

The authority was the first to create a buffer zone in April 2018 following demonstrations and imposed the public spaces protection order (PSPO) following reports of "intimidation, harassment and distress" for women using the facility.

Alina Dulgheriu and Andrea Orthova, who regularly attend a vigil run by the Good Counsel Network (GCN), mounted a legal challenge against the protest ban.

It was argued on their behalf the ban interferes with their rights under the European Convention on Human Rights to freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief and freedom of assembly and association.

They also said the council was wrong to use a PSPO because the orders were designed to protect local residents from anti-social behaviour.

They argued clinic users were "one-off or occasional" visitors to the area.

The Master of the Rolls Sir Terence Etherton, Lady Justice King and Lady Justice Nicola Davies unanimously dismissed their appeal on Wednesday.

In doing so, they upheld an earlier decision in favour of Ealing by the High Court.

A lawyer representing the women during an appeal hearing in July said many of the allegations made against protesters, in evidence gathered by the council during a consultation exercise, were "strongly disputed" by the women, GCN and other anti-abortion groups.

Ealing Council argued the buffer zone should remain and said some users of the clinic who had abortions many years ago are still "significantly affected by their encounters with the activists".

The authority's QC said the council received a petition signed by more than 3,500 people urging it to take action.

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