Scrap Clause 9 - the buffer zone amendment
Buffer zones are incompatible with human rights.
Pro-life vigils outside abortion centres are an emotive issue. Nobody wants women to experience harassment.
In 2018, the government undertook an in-depth assessment of the activities that take place outside abortion providers, which included a call for evidence. The review concluded that the introduction of buffer zones would be a disproportionate response given the number of vigils that take place and the passive nature of the activities.
Legislation and police powers already exist to maintain public order and prevent harassment.
Despite this, Stella Creasey MP hijacked the Public Order bill with an amendment that, if passed, would introduce buffer zones outside all abortion clinics.
Nothing has changed between 2018 and 2022 - if anything, footfall in and out of abortion clinics has diminished due to Covid and the introduction of the pills by post scheme.
The ‘protests’ are often misrepresented as aggressive but consist of either a group of people passively praying or passers-by being offered a leaflet, which they are, of course, free to refuse. In an age where everyone has a videophone in their pocket, there is a strange lack of evidence to corroborate some of the alleged outlandish behaviour.
The government has admitted that the proposed amendment introducing buffer zones outside abortion clinics contravenes human rights law.
Compulsory buffer zones are a terrible idea for several reasons:
1) Outside the abortion clinic is often the ONLY place where women are informed of and given access to real alternatives to abortion.
2) Hundreds of women have already been helped to keep their babies with practical offers of support from pro-life volunteers
3) This is a free speech issue that will set a precedent and introduce categories of speech that are criminalised. In an open democracy, it must never be illegal to attempt to persuade someone to adopt your point of view, no matter where this occurs. What next? Criminalise a Pro-life view today. Stop the expression of Gender-critical views tomorrow?
4) The proposed exclusion zones would extend to 150m outside the abortion clinics. It is not that legally-defined harassment occurs but because people feel harassed by seeing an alternative viewpoint. Logically there is no start or end point because if harassment is based on a feeling, what is to stop the zones from being extended to wherever someone feels harassed?
5) Buffer zones create a two-tier system with certain beliefs being criminalised and barred from being expressed in the public square. The amendment specifically targets faith-based views.
6) Buffer zones will criminalise even silent prayer and introduce thought crime into the UK. Anyone suspected of praying within the zone will face arrest and prosecution. This is a massive infringement on religious freedoms.
If the amendment were concerned with any other form of protest, it would be causing massive headlines. It is a disproportionate and politically motivated knee-jerk response that will set a disturbing precedent.
Many cross-party peers, including those who support abortion, have also spoken out in the House of Lords against the proposal. Abortion is a contentious issue, but buffer zones will criminalise both a pro-life approach and also offers of help to women.
Sign the petition to the Home Secretary and Minister for Policing telling them to scrap this amendment and also to employ the party whip because this bill is about public order and freedom of speech and not a conscience vote about the merits of abortion.
Abortion buffer zones incompatible with human rights
Peers line up to speak out against buffer zones