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
|Gerry Carroll||People Before Profit Alliance|
|Caoimhe Archibald||Sinn Féin|
|Cathal Boylan||Sinn Féin|
|Linda Dillon||Sinn Féin|
|Jemma Dolan||Sinn Féin|
|Sinéad Ennis||Sinn Féin|
|Órlaithí Flynn||Sinn Féin|
|Colm Gildernew||Sinn Féin|
|Declan Kearney||Sinn Féin|
|Gerry Kelly||Sinn Féin|
|Liz Kimmins||Sinn Féin|
|Declan McAleer||Sinn Féin|
|Fra McCann||Sinn Féin|
|Philip McGuigan||Sinn Féin|
|Maolíosa McHugh||Sinn Féin|
|Conor Murphy||Sinn Féin|
|Carál Ní Chuilín||Sinn Féin|
|John O’Dowd||Sinn Féin|
|Michelle O’Neill||Sinn Féin|
|Emma Rogan||Sinn Féin|
|Pat Sheehan||Sinn Féin|
|Emma Sheerin||Sinn Féin|
|Nicola Brogan||Sinn Féin|
|Pádraig Delargy||Sinn Féin|
|Ciara Ferguson||Sinn Féin|
|Deirdre Hargey||Sinn Féin|
|Áine Murphy||Sinn Féin|
29 MLAs who voted NO to the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill
|Jim Wells||Independent Unionist|
|Jim Allister||Traditional Unionist Voice|