Harassment ‘buffer zones’ protect women visiting abortion clinics: Protesters risk up to six months in prison if they break new rules
- It is a criminal offense to intimidate or harass anyone within 150 meters of buildings
- The government did not support the plan, claiming existing laws were sufficient
- But it was supported by several senior conservatives, including Penny Mordaunt
Women visiting abortion clinics are protected from protests by new ‘buffer zones’ agreed by MPs last night.
Under the new proposal, it will be a criminal offense to intimidate or harass anyone within 150 meters of the buildings.
The government did not support the Labor plan, claiming the existing laws were sufficient, while some MPs warned it would criminalize “elder grandmothers” who pray peacefully for women seeking resignation.
But it was supported by several senior conservatives in a free vote, and the amendment to the Public Order Act was passed by a majority of 187 after 297 MPs voted in favor and 110 voted against.
Buffer zones banning protests outside all abortion clinics could be introduced later this year, activists hope (file photo)
Those in attendance included Commons leader Penny Mordaunt, Cabinet Secretary Chris Philp and former Prime Minister Theresa May.
Last night, Yvette Cooper, the shadow Labor Home Secretary, welcomed the outcome and said: “No one should experience harassment when accessing essential health care.
“Severe harassment of women and staff on their way to abortion and birth control clinics is deeply harrowing and unacceptable.
“We have been advocating for these buffer zones for eight years and just as we have won the battle to end bullying outside vaccine clinics, it is very welcome that there is now a majority in Parliament for this as well.”
The new law amendment creates a “crime of interfering with access to or provision of abortion services.”
A 150-metre buffer zone will be placed around the abortion clinics to protect women seeking access to the service or doctors and nurses providing it.
Data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities shows that 214,869 women had abortions in England and Wales in 2021, a 2 percent increase from the more than 210,000 recorded in 2020
WHAT IS THE ABORTION TERM IN THE UK?
Most abortions in England, Wales and Scotland are performed at the end of the 24th week of pregnancy.
They can be performed after 24 weeks under certain circumstances, for example if the mother’s life is at stake or if the child is born with a serious disability.
Campaigners want the time limit shortened over numbers showing that a third of babies born after 23 weeks survive.
Some claim that after 23 weeks, babies can detect their mother’s movements and have decent hearing.
They can also make facial expressions and produce urine after just 14 weeks, and hiccups after 11 weeks.
Anyone found guilty of violating the zone to intimidate, threaten or persuade women faces a fine or six months in prison, up to two years for repeated violations.
Home Secretary Jeremy Quin said the government “fully endorses the sentiment behind the new clause”, but emphasized that “existing legislation coupled with the increasing use of public space protection orders – PSPOs – can be used and are effective”.
Campaigners claimed that of the 50 abortion clinics targeted by protesters, only five are protected by PSPOs obtained by municipalities.
Senior Tory Sir Bernard Jenkin said the buffer zone struck the right balance between protecting the rights of those who oppose abortion and women’s right to confidential access to health care and free from harassment.
‘It does not prohibit protest; it just moves it down the road to preserve space right outside the clinic for women seeking care, and for nurses and doctors providing that care.”
Labor MP Stella Creasy, who proposed the amendment, said: ‘Let’s face it, there’s no one praying outside of the places where you get hip surgery.
“There’s no one offering rosaries or dead fetuses outside of places you might go for an ankle injury.
“There’s a time and a place to have that conversation, but not when you’re dealing with vulnerable women.”
However, veteran Tory MP Sir Edward Leigh said the buffer zones were disproportionate.
“The people targeted by this amendment are peaceful protesters, frankly often elderly grandmothers, who are perfectly peaceful. They pray politely and hand out pamphlets,” he said.
He contrasted the treatment they face with environmentalists who often roam free despite causing huge inconvenience to the public.
And fellow Conservative MP Fiona Bruce asked, ‘When did it become against the law to pray in this country?’