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Press release – Only 13 of 6,412 consultation submissions from members of public support NI abortion censorship zone Bill

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

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Only 13 of 6,412 consultation submissions from members of public support NI abortion censorship zone Bill

MLAs have received thousands of emails from constituents asking them to vote against the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill, after the results of a public consultation on whether to introduce ‘censorship zones’ around abortion clinics in Northern Ireland revealed that 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 voted in support of the Bill by 58 to 28 votes at Consideration Stage.

It is expected that the Bill will reach Further Consideration Stage this Monday (14 March) where it will be voted on by MLAs. Speaker Alex Maskey has then pledged to give more time for private members’ bills so that bills including this one will be able to have their final stage the week after (week beginning 21 March 2022).

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.

A number of prominent human rights groups and campaigners oppose the introduction of censorship zones, including Peter Tatchell, the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship, and the Freedom Association.

Current laws, including the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 already provide wide-ranging powers for authorities to keep public order and protect women and the public from genuine harassment and intimidation, including outside abortion clinics.

A June 2021 SavnataComRes poll 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”.

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, said:

“The results of this consultation demonstrate that there is very little support from the public for introducing abortion censorship zones to Northern Ireland”. 

“This is mirrored in a June 2021 SavnataComRes poll that showed that only 25% of the Northern Irish population support the introduction of ‘buffer zones’ on specific clinics, as this Bill would permit”.

“Many babies are alive today because their mothers were able to receive the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic”.

“Current laws, including the Protection from Harassment (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 and the Public Order (Northern Ireland) Order 1987 already provide wide-ranging powers for authorities to keep public order and protect women and the public from genuine harassment and intimidation, including outside abortion clinics”.

“By attempting to prevent women considering abortion from receiving compassionate emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ MLAs who are supporting this Bill have revealed their opposition to real choice for women”.

ENDS

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