A poll released today shows that only 21% of the population support the introduction of nationwide ‘censorship zones’ around abortion clinics.
Labour MP Rupa Huq has tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill that is expected to go to a vote on Monday.
The proposed legislation would introduce a jail term of up to 6 months for anyone that speaks about abortion to a woman seeking an abortion within 150 metres of every abortion clinic in the country. This would include peacefully demonstrating outside a clinic, as well as offering a woman practical, emotional, or financial support to be able to continue a pregnancy if she is unsure about her decision.
A person guilty of an offence would be liable, in the first instance, to imprisonment for up to 6 months and/or an unlimited fine, and in further instances up to 2 years’ imprisonment and/or an unlimited fine. This goes far beyond existing sentencing powers for tackling harassment and would leave courts open to judicial review proceedings.
Majority of voters happy with current laws
The polling was undertaken by Savanta ComRes who interviewed 2,191 British adults online between 18 and 20 June 2021. It showed that support was lowest among 18 to 34-year-olds, with only 15% supporting the introduction of nationwide ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics.
The poll also showed that among the general population, a majority supported either having no restrictions on speaking about the issue of abortion outside abortion clinics or restrictions in line with current legislation, which allow either an individual to be charged if they are harassing a woman, or local councils to use current PSPO legislation to introduce restrictions around a specific clinic if there are ongoing problems outside that clinic.
The right to freedom of speech and assembly
Opposition to censorship zones extends beyond pro-life advocates to unite a large part of society who may not agree with the pro-life position on abortion but who oppose censorship zones as a threat to freedom of speech. Despite supporting abortion, a number of prominent human rights groups and campaigners have spoken out against the introduction of censorship zones. These include Peter Tatchell, the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship and the Freedom Association.
The Be Here for Me website highlights just a few of the many stories of women who have been helped by people outside abortion clinics, and the stories of women who could miss out on such support in the future.
Pro-life demonstrations are overwhelmingly peaceful
In 2017, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd launched a review into the scale and nature of pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics to establish if the Government would recommend the introduction of censorship zones. In the investigation, continued by the succeeding Home Secretary Sajid Javid, over 2,500 responded to a call for evidence, including abortion service providers, abortion service clients, those engaging in anti-abortion demonstrations, police forces and local authorities.
In 2018, Sajid Javid announced that the Home Office could not find adequate reason to introduce censorship zones, stating that: “…introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature. In making my decision, I am also aware that legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others”.
A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said: “This poll clearly shows there is very little support from the public for introducing nationwide censorship zones”.
“Instead, the majority of the public support either having no restrictions on speaking about the issue of abortion outside abortion clinics or restrictions in line with current legislation, which allow either an individual to be charged if they are harrassing a woman, or local councils to use current PSPO legislation to introduce restrictions around a specific clinic if there are ongoing problems outside that clinic”.
“Many babies are alive today because their mothers were able to receive the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic”.
“By attempting to prevent women considering abortion from receiving compassionate emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ lobby have revealed their opposition to real choice for women”.
“Ironically, Rupa Huq is a supporter of the Extinction Rebellion Movement and their protest tactics that this Bill seeks to restrict. It appears she does want free speech and freedom of assembly for people she agrees with, but not for those she disagrees with”.
“Similarly, a number of the supporters of the amendment are ironically on record as strongly opposing the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill due to its potentially severe infringements on freedom of assembly and speech”.