Intended for healthcare professionals


Should doctors support restrictions on anti-abortion protests?

BMJ 2017; 359 doi: (Published 09 November 2017) Cite this as: BMJ 2017;359:j5070
  1. Francesca Robinson, freelance journalist, Hampshire, UK
  1. fran.robinson8{at}

The idea of buffer zones to prevent picketing around abortion clinics is gaining traction. Francesca Robinson reports on the feelings of doctors on both sides of the fence

On the 50th anniversary of the Abortion Act, on October 27, more than 100 MPs put their names to a letter urging the government to introduce buffer zones to prevent anti-abortion activity outside women’s and reproductive health clinics.

It follows a groundbreaking vote by Ealing Council to explore the possibility of introducing a public space protection order to stop activists picketing women and staff outside its local Marie Stopes reproductive health and abortion clinic.

These moves are welcomed by doctors who provide abortion care, but some people argue that such restrictions on the activities of anti-abortion pressure groups amount to a ban on free speech.


The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which runs more than 40 abortion clinics and sexual health centres in England, Wales, and Scotland, has campaigned for the introduction of buffer zones since 2014. It says anti-abortion activists carry large banners of dismembered fetuses, distribute leaflets containing misleading information about abortion, and follow and question women as they enter or leave the clinics. It claims that anti-abortion activity is escalating in the UK.

Caroline Gazet, a surgeon and deputy medical director at reproductive health and abortion service provider Marie Stopes, agrees. “I have provided abortion care for 10 years and I have definitely noticed that over the past few years there are more protesters outside clinics, particularly at times such as Advent and Christmas,” Gazet says.

Retired obstetrician and gynaecologist Wendy Savage says that although there have been violent incidents outside clinics in America, so far nothing similar has …

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