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NI: MLAs back censorship zone bill despite only 13 of 6,412 submissions supporting bill

The results of a public consultation on whether to introduce censorship zones around abortion clinics in Northern Ireland has revealed that only only 13 (0.2%) of the 6,412 submissions from members of the public supported the Bill.  Despite this overwhelming opposition from among the general public, MLAs have voted in support of the Bill by 58 to 28 votes at Consideration Stage.

The Bill would make it illegal to “influenc[e] a [person seeking an abortion], whether directly or indirectly” within “safe access zones”. This Bill, if it became law, would effectively make it illegal to offer assistance, advice or even to pray in “safe access zones” outside abortion clinics and hospitals offering abortions in Northern Ireland.

Of 6,412 responses to the consultation from members of the public in Northern Ireland, only 13 were supportive of the Bill. A report on the consultation released by the Northern Ireland Assembly in January states:

“Of the 6,412 submissions from individuals, the overwhelming majority stated their opposition to the Bill, with only thirteen submissions from individuals affirming their support”.

This means that there was only 0.2% support for the Bill among the general public who made submissions to the consultation. 

Self-proclaimed ‘pro-life’ MLAs vote in favour

Last year, a number of self-proclaimed ‘pro-life’ MLAs voted in favour of the Bill. Introduced by Green Party leader Clare Bailey, which passed Second Stage in October 2021 by 58 votes to 29.

While the DUP and TUV said they were strongly opposed to it, arguing it could affect the right to protest and that such legislation was unnecessary, Sinn Féin, Alliance, the SDLP and Ulster Unionist MLAs were among parties in favour of the move. 

The SDLP is a self-proclaimed pro-life party and a number of Ulster Unionist MLAs are also self-proclaimed ‘pro-life’ MLAs who court the pro-life vote in their constituencies. No SDLP or Ulster Unionist MLAs opposed the Bill. A full voting list from Second Stage is provided at the end of this article.

DUP MLA, Jonathan Buckley, described the Bill as “regressive” saying: “Under the Bill, anything from a conversation to a leaflet would be deemed criminal. Notwithstanding whether such a definition would be enforceable in practice, that is an incredibly broad scope”.

TUV leader, Jim Allister, objected to the suggestion that “to oppose the Bill is to endorse harassment, abuse or violence. It is none of those things, and I absolutely throw back that slur, which has been cast at those of us who would dare to question the need for and the content of the Bill”.

A June 2021 poll undertaken by SavantaComRes showed that only 25% of the Northern Irish population support the introduction of ‘buffer zones’ on specific clinics, as this Bill would permit.

In 2018, then UK Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, when rejecting calls to introduce censorship zones outside abortion clinics in England, said: “introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response”.

“The main activities reported to us that take place during protests include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets. There were relatively few reports of the more aggressive activities”.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “This consultation shows how much the Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly are out of touch with the electorate. Only 13 submission were supportive of this draconian Bill. The Bill is an instance of massive state overreach with very low public support”.

“It was only two years ago that abortion was forced onto the people of Northern Ireland against their will. Now, it might be illegal to even object to this change outside an abortion clinic, regardless of how peacefully these objections are made known”.

58 MLAs who voted YES to the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill at Second Stage

Pat CatneySDLP
Mark DurkanSDLP
Dolores KellySDLP
Daniel McCrossanSDLP
Patsy McGloneSDLP
Colin McGrathSDLP
Sinead McLaughlinSDLP
Justin McNultySDLP
Nichola MallonSDLP
Matthew O’TooleSDLP
Robin SwannUUP
Steve AikenUUP
Andy AllenUUP
Rosemary BartonUUP
Doug BeattieUUP
Robbie ButlerUUP
Alan ChambersUUP
Mike NesbittUUP
John StewartUUP
Kellie ArmstrongAlliance
John BlairAlliance
Paula BradshawAlliance
Stewart DicksonAlliance
Naomi LongAlliance
Chris LyttleAlliance
Andrew MuirAlliance
Clare BaileyGreen
Rachel WoodsGreen
Trevor LunnIndependent
Claire SugdenIndependent
Gerry CarrollPeople Before Profit Alliance
Cara HunterSDLP
Caoimhe ArchibaldSinn Féin
Cathal BoylanSinn Féin
Linda DillonSinn Féin
Jemma DolanSinn Féin
Sinéad EnnisSinn Féin
Órlaithí FlynnSinn Féin
Colm GildernewSinn Féin
Declan KearneySinn Féin
Gerry KellySinn Féin
Liz KimminsSinn Féin
Declan McAleerSinn Féin
Fra McCannSinn Féin
Philip McGuiganSinn Féin
Maolíosa McHughSinn Féin
Conor MurphySinn Féin
Carál Ní ChuilínSinn Féin
John O’DowdSinn Féin
Michelle O’NeillSinn Féin
Emma RoganSinn Féin
Pat SheehanSinn Féin
Emma SheerinSinn Féin
Nicola BroganSinn Féin
Pádraig DelargySinn Féin
Ciara FergusonSinn Féin
Deirdre HargeySinn Féin
Áine MurphySinn Féin

29 MLAs who voted NO to the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill

Jim WellsIndependent Unionist
Jim AllisterTraditional Unionist Voice
Maurice BradleyDUP
Paula BradleyDUP
Keith BuchananDUP
Thomas BuchananDUP
Jonathan BuckleyDUP
Joanne BuntingDUP
Pam CameronDUP
Trevor ClarkeDUP
Diane DoddsDUP
Alex EastonDUP
Paul FrewDUP
Paul GivanDUP
Harry HarveyDUP
David HilditchDUP
William HumphreyDUP
William IrwinDUP
Gordon LyonsDUP
Gary MiddletonDUP
Robin NewtonDUP
Edwin PootsDUP
George RobinsonDUP
Christopher StalfordDUP
Mervyn StoreyDUP
Peter WeirDUP
Stephen DunneDUP
Deborah ErskineDUP
Michelle McIlveenDUP

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.