Women's Rights Campaigners Celebrate As MPs Back Abortion Clinic Buffer Zones

MPs vote in favour or proposals that would make it an offence to target women who are seeking a termination or providing the medical service.
Labour MP Stella Creasy said the vote on Tuesday was a "victory" for campaigners "who have fought for years for these vital protections".
Labour MP Stella Creasy said the vote on Tuesday was a "victory" for campaigners "who have fought for years for these vital protections".
Ollie Millington via Getty Images

Campaigners have hailed a move that could see anti-harassment buffer zones created around abortion clinics in England and Wales.

MPs voted in favour of an amendment to the government’s Public Order Bill that would make it a criminal offence for anti-abortion campaigners to interfere, intimidate or harass women who are seeking a termination or providing the medical service.

The proposals, which were pushed by a cross-party group of MPs, passed by 297 votes to 110 — a majority of 187.

In a lengthy parliamentary debate, a number of MPs spoke in support of the 150-metre buffer zones while other raised concerns that they would hinder the right to free speech.

Labour MP Stella Creasy, who proposed the amendment, said women “in their “droves are asking for this protection” and that there needed to be an end to the “postcode lottery of protection”.

Addressing MPs who opposed the amendment on free speech grounds, Creasy said: “New clause 11 does not stop free speech on abortion, it does not stop people protesting.

“As somebody who has been regularly subjected to protests, it’d do nothing to stop the protests that I have experienced from many of the people who are involved in this.

“It simply says that you shouldn’t have a right to do that in the face of somebody — and very often these people are right up in front of people — at a point when they have made a decision.”

Caroline Nokes, the Conservative chair of the women and equalities committee, also backed the proposals, arguing that “progress has been too slow” in protecting women from street harassment.

She was supported by former justice minister Victoria Atkins, who said she agreed with the amendment.

“These are fundamental healthcare services that we provide rightly, lawfully, in the 21st century. So we must surely enable women to get the services as they need them, when they need them, so that they get the right help and advice that they need.”

The debate comes after warnings from campaigners that women are being targeted by anti-abortion protestors and bombarded with distressing leaflets and materials.

The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which welcomed the amendment’s passing, said there had been reports of leaflets being handed to women telling them that “rape is easier to get over than abortion”.

It also raised concerns that leaflets advertising so-called abortion reversal pills had been given to women despite the fact that there is “no reputable evidence” that the progesterone in the pills can “reverse” an abortion.

But Conservative MP Fiona Bruce said she believed exclusion zones had “grave implications” for “freedom of thought, conscience, speech, belief and assembly”.

She acknowledged harassment and intimidation around abortion clinics had to be “addressed”, but said there were already existing laws and “there have been relatively few if any reports of this”.

The DUP’s Carla Lockhart agreed, arguing that the amendment was “simply unnecessary” and that demonstrators offered women “alternatives” to abortion.

The Public Order Bill still has to undergo scrutiny in the House of Lords before it becomes law.

Speaking after the amendment passed, Creasy said: “Today’s vote is a victory for campaigners like Sister Supporter, women and MPs across parliament, especially Rupa Huq MP, who have fought for years for these vital protections.

“With evidence hundreds of thousands of women every year are hassled it’s right we have a national solution for a national problem.

“It’s for them we have acted so that they can access an abortion without having to run the gauntlet of protestors to seek healthcare.

“Ministers need to act swiftly to ensure that this change is implemented and guidance published to ensure that every woman is able to enjoy the protections which have been won today.”

Last week it was reported that a buffer zone was being placed around a clinic in Dorset to deter anti-abortion campaigners harassing service users and staff.

Breaching the buffer zone could result in a fixed penalty notice of £100 or a conviction at a magistrates court, the Guardian reported.


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