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Scotland: Politicians call to prevent offers of help outside abortion clinics

Councillors in Edinburgh have decided to back the campaign to legally enforce censorship zones around an abortion centre in the capital, and calls for national enforcement have received increased support from a number of politicians in Scotland.

The ‘#BackOffScotland’ campaign, started by a group of Edinburgh University students, calls for legal powers to remove any pro-life vigils within 150m of a hospital or clinic that provides abortions.

SNP candidate Sarah Masson has pledged her support for the censorship zones saying:

“These health centres, such as Chambers Sexual Health Clinic in Edinburgh, offer a range of services and women should be free to access them in peace, without harassment or intimidation from others on arrival”.

“I was incredibly glad to see Edinburgh Council back the calls from the campaigners. It is a significant step forward for the campaign”.

“However, I agree with Back Off Scotland that this issue is better tackled nationally”.

She has subsequently urged the Scottish Government to consider introducing these measures nationally.

Other politicians, such as Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP, have also backed the move. He said: “I’m hoping when they finally get around the table, [the Scottish Government] grant permission to all 32 councils to have authority over these laws”.

Censorship zones in England

Censorship zones have long been a matter of contention throughout England and there have been a number of attempts in recent years to introduce a law to prevent the offering of help outside abortion clinics.

Most recently, a bill to introduce censorship zones, which was brought forward by Rupa Huq MP, failed to pass through the Commons at its Second Reading in September.

Censorship zones would criminalise the offering of practical and emotional support to women entering abortion clinics across England and Wales, bringing a possible prison sentence of up to two years for those who offer support to women within 150 metres of abortion clinics.

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, there were over 2,500 responses to a call for evidence, including from 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: “[…] 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”.

Opposition to censorship zones

Opposition to censorship zones extends beyond pro-life advocates to unite a large part of society, which may not agree with the pro-life position on abortion but opposes 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. This includes Peter Tatchell, the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship and the Freedom Association.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “As the former Home Secretary said, legislation to prevent harassment outside abortion clinics already exists. If this takes place in particular cases, the individual(s) responsible can already be prosecuted under existing legislation”.

“Harassment though, should never happen. The rhetoric surrounding the introduction of censorship zones is very far from the reality of what actually happens. 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”.

“The introduction of censorship zones is not only a fundamental attack on the freedom of expression, an attack recognised by many supporters of abortion, but more fundamentally, is an attempt to prevent people from providing help to others in their time of need”.

Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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Dear reader

In 2020, the UK Government imposed an extreme abortion regime on Northern Ireland, which included a provision that legalised abortion right up to birth for disabilties including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot.

A new Bill has been launched at the Northern Ireland assembly that will remove the current provision that allows abortion for ‘severe fetal impairment’.

It is under these grounds in the regulations that babies with disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot can currently be singled out for abortion in Northern Ireland because of their disability and can be aborted right up to birth.

Before the new abortion regime was imposed on Northern Ireland in 2020, disability-selective abortion for conditions such as Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot was not legal and there was a culture of welcoming and supporting people with these disabilities rather than eliminating them.

This is reflected directly in the latest figures (2016) from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland, which show that while there were 52 children born with Down’s syndrome in Northern Ireland, in the same year only 1 child from Northern Ireland with Down’s syndrome was aborted in England and Wales. 

This contrasts with the situation in the rest of the United Kingdom where disability-selective abortion has been legal since 1967.

The latest available figures show that 90% of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome before birth are aborted in England and Wales.

We are, therefore, asking people like you to take 30 seconds of your time and add your support to the campaign to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot in Northern Ireland.

If you live in Northern Ireland: 
Ask your MLAs to vote to stop abortion up to birth for disabilities including Down’s syndrome, cleft lip and club foot:

If you live outside Northern Ireland: 
Show your support by signing this petition in support of the Bill:

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Help stop abortion up to birth for babies with disabilities including Down's syndrome & club foot

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