Caroline Lucas: comments after Wistons meeting

Here’s what Caroline Lucas MP has written to people who took part in her surgery on Friday 13th about the Wistons anti-abortion protests:

‘As discussed at the meeting, the issue of ‘buffer zones’ is something I’m exploring in Parliament. I wanted to get a sense from local residents whether they support the idea in principle – which by and large I felt was the case.

I found the meeting useful as it helped to make my mind clearer about what the local community finds acceptable and unacceptable behaviour as far as the protests outside the clinic go. It was also a good opportunity to revisit the role of the Council and to explore what more we might ask them to do.

Most of those who attended the meeting felt there wasn’t a problem with peaceful protests, eg a silent presence outside the clinic and/or prayers being said, such as those carried out by the two ladies who briefly joined the meeting. In instances where there’s an ‘intent to intimidate’ things change, and the behaviour becomes unacceptable. As one resident put it, it’s fine to have ‘a right to protest, but not to interfere’.

There were mixed views on the visual impact of the protests, with some finding the graphic images the most disturbing aspect. Others felt that witnessing people trying to access services at the clinic, often at their lowest ebb and feeling emotionally vulnerable, then having to experience additional stress and anguish when they arrive, was tough to see.
With regard to the next steps, I will:

1. Go back to Brighton and Hove City Council regarding powers it has under new and existing public nuisance/anti-social behaviour legislation.

2. Ask whether the consultation that the Council said took place before could be rerun, as large numbers of local residents were unaware it had taken place. I think that local community groups and other interested organisations should be made aware of the consultation, and more should be done to make the local community aware that it’s happening.

3. Continue to support the BPAS campaign to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics and will continue to do all I can to get this on the agenda in Parliament.

Looking ahead, we also discussed a petition to the Council. Feelings were mixed about the timing of this. After some discussion it was left that we would get some initial responses first, and then review if/how/when to pursue this route too.

I have updated Wistons directly about the meeting, along with other local residents who have contacted me with concerns on this issue before. I will also update your local ward councillors about the key issues discussed, as their support with any enforcement via Council powers would be beneficial.’

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