Protest posters outside Fallowfield Marie Stopes clinic Manchester

Abortion clinic ‘buffer zones’ a possibility in Manchester following ‘harassment’ allegations against anti-abortion group

  • Manchester City Council gathering evidence to support implementing abortion clinic 'buffer zones' 
  • Pro-choice group petitioning the council to act
  • Anti-abortion group deny 'harassment' claims

Pro-choice campaigners are pushing for a ‘buffer zone’ to be set up outside a Manchester abortion clinic to protect vulnerable women from ‘harassment’ by anti-abortion protestors.

Sister Supporter is petitioning the council to create a harassment-free ‘safe zone’ around the Marie Stopes clinic in Fallowfield to prevent anti-abortion groups campaigning outside the building and ‘intimidating’ women.

Manchester City Council will examine implementing a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) outside the clinic and is currently at the evidence gathering stage.

Kylie Harrison, public relations advisor for Marie Stopes, said: “We believe every woman in the UK should be able to access abortion services without harassment, which sadly is not the case in Manchester. Our team members have seen protestors calling women and staff murderers or telling women they will go to hell if they enter the clinic.”

Michael Freeley, a member of 40 Days for Life, an anti-abortion group which holds two annual 40 day prayer vigils outside the clinic, denies the accusations.

He said: “I’ve never, ever once heard anybody say anything like that. Our goal is that women change their mind and not have an abortion and that is not going to help in any way.

“It’d be great if once one of these accusations could be given with evidence.”

Fetus diagrams used by anti-abortion groups
Foetus diagrams used by anti-abortion groups. Credit: Sister Supporter

Since the Home Office rejected calls for exclusion zones around all abortion clinics in England and Wales, it is now down to individual councils to decide if they believe it is necessary.

A PSPO was introduced around a Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing, London after a successful campaign from Sister Supporter. Anti-abortion and pro-choice campaigners can no longer stand within 100 metres of the clinic.

Ms Harrison said it had been “transformational in terms of women’s experience”.

“Previously you would expect women to be tearful, distressed, and sometimes very angry about how they had been treated on the way into the clinic, but since the buffer zone was introduced it is simply not an issue anymore.”

'There CAN be a HAPPY ENDING!' calling volunteers to pray outside the clinic
‘There CAN be a HAPPY ENDING!’ calling for anti-abortion volunteers to pray outside the clinic. Credit: Sister Supporter

The Manchester branch of Sister Supporter currently act as a counter-presence to anti-abortion groups outside the Fallowfield clinic. They offer support to users of the clinic and are also collecting evidence to pass on to Manchester City Council.

Sister Supporter campaigner Leah Culhane said: “One of our aims at the clinic is to collect photos and testimonies and monitor what’s going on to then pass on to the council.

 “We’re just trying to reiterate that praying outside a clinic isn’t passive in itself, it’s quite stigmatising, trying to shame women and trying to dissuade them from entering. The clinic have told us you can hear it within the clinic.”

Anti-abortion campaigner advising clinic users to 'ask to see the scan'
Anti-abortion campaigner advising clinic users to ‘ask to see the scan’. Credit: Sister Supporter

Councillor Sue Murphy, deputy leader of Manchester City Council, said: “Women have an absolute right to privacy and to attend clinics without fear of harassment or intimidation. 

“We are working with the clinic to identify any anti-social behaviour which takes place in its vicinity and to ensure appropriate action is taken.”