Petition demanding protestors to keep their distance from abortion clinics reaches 160,000 signatures

Founder of the petition Erika Garrett says she is not giving up 


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The Independent Online

A petition calling on Home Secretary Theresa May to create “buffer zones” around abortion clinics to keep a safe distance between women seeking abortions and protestors has reached 160,000 signatures.

The huge number of signatures on, however, does not require the government to debate the subject in Parliament.

Founder of the petition Erika Garrett has now launched a second petition on the UK Government website with the aim to gather 100,000 signatures before June 2016 to ensure the issue is debated in Parliament. 

Ms Garrett, who lives in Swindon, handed in her original petition to 10 Downing Street in March last year but has heard “nothing” since a brief letter informing her that “adequate” laws protecting women were already in place.

She is calling for “legal exclusionary zones” outside of clinics alongside the "Back Off" campaign, which was brought about by a coalition of 19 organisations, including the Royal College of Midwives, Marie Stopes International and the End Violence Against Women Coalition.

“I’ve never said exactly [how far away the buffer should be] but at least several hundred meters, far enough away that the protestors can’t distinguish the visitors of the clinic and who is just passing by,” she said.

Ms Garrett has been criticized for curtailing the right for free speech. 

She told The Independent: “If they want to do that [protest], outside the clinic is probably the wrong place. They can only be there to intimidate women, and not educate them [as they claim]. It’s quite patronizing as women have made up their minds [to have an abortion] at this point.”

Protestors are rarely removed by the police as they are not breaking the law, despite the potential intimidation felt by those women entering or leaving the clinic.

Her official petition on the government website opened in November and is currently standing at just below 8,000 signatures. It needs 10,000 signatures before the Government is obliged to respond, and 100,000 names to be debated in Parliament.

“I don’t plan on giving up,” said Ms Garrett. “Petitions are only part of the solution. This issue is not something that is going to go away.”

Ms Garrett is also looking for a well-known face to be the front of the campaign.

“I’m just a normal person, I don’t have that influence when I speak,” she said.

The Independent requested a comment from the Home Secretary's office but did not hear back in time for publication.