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Abortion buffer zones incompatible with human rights law says Government

An amendment that MPs voted to add to the Public Order Bill last week, which will introduce censorship zones outside abortion clinics across England and Wales, is incompatible with human rights law according to the Government.

Speaking on behalf of the Government yesterday, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, said that Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill, which forbids offers of help outside abortion clinics, is incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights.

In a statement, he said: “I am unable, but only because of [the censorship zone clause], to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Bill are presently compatible with Convention rights but the Government nevertheless wishes to proceed with the Bill”.

It is likely that the clause will now be redrafted to ensure that it is compatible with human rights law.

“We already have laws on the statute book to prevent harassment and maintain public order…”

Last week, MPs voted by 297 votes to 110 in support of an amendment to the Public Order Bill to introduce ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics nationwide. These zones would ban offers of help and alternatives to abortion.

During the debate on this issue, Carla Lockhart MP emphasised that “We already have laws on the statute book to prevent harassment and maintain public order, including laws in place to ensure women are not harassed or intimidated outside abortion clinics”. She also shared the testimony of women who had been helped by volunteers outside abortion clinics. 

She referred to the story of one mother, Alina Dulgheriu, who explained that “‘her beautiful daughter would not be here today’ without support from a volunteer handing out a leaflet outside the clinic”. Lockhart also recounted the story of another woman who “was ‘under immense pressure’ to go through with her abortion. But on her way into the abortion clinic, a woman handed her a leaflet and simply said that ‘she was there if [she] needed her’. Her conversation with this woman gave her the support and confidence she needed to keep her baby”.

Fiona Bruce MP pointed to the amendment’s broad implications that “contravenes the basic principle of certainty of the rule of law”. 

She compared handing out leaflets in front of an abortion clinic to an MP handing out leaflets at election time – Parliamentarians would be “aghast” if their leafleting were met with a fine and imprisonment, and should equally be “aghast” that the amendment targets “people with faith-based views”. She pointedly asked, “When did it become against the law in this country to pray?”

Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said: “The clause should be thrown out and not simply redrafted. Censorship zones are direct viewpoint discrimination which deny women in need an alternative to abortion. As has been pointed out many times, there are laws in place to prevent harassment and intimidation and these should be enforced if and when necessary. There is no need for further draconian legislation”.

Dear reader,

You may be surprised to learn that our 24-week abortion time limit is out of line with the majority of European Union countries, where the most common time limit for abortion on demand or on broad social grounds is 12 weeks gestation.

The latest guidance from the British Association of Perinatal Medicine enables doctors to intervene to save premature babies from 22 weeks. The latest research indicates that a significant number of babies born at 22 weeks gestation can survive outside the womb, and this number increases with proactive perinatal care.

This leaves a real contradiction in British law. In one room of a hospital, doctors could be working to save a baby born alive at 23 weeks whilst, in another room of that same hospital, a doctor could perform an abortion that would end the life of a baby at the same age.

The majority of the British population support reducing the time limit. Polling has shown that 70% of British women favour a reduction in the time limit from 24 weeks to 20 weeks or below.

Please click the button below to sign the petition to the Prime Minister, asking him to do everything in his power to reduce the abortion time limit.