Spanish legislators in the Congress of Deputies have approved legislation that will make offers of assistance, practical support and prayer outside abortion clinics punishable by imprisonment.
The Congress of Deputies voted by 204 to 144 in favour of an amendment to the country’s penal code..
The legislation will now move on to the Senate and, if passed, could see those who pray and/or offer assistance outside abortion clinics facing imprisonment. The penalty can range from three months to one year in prison or community service from 31 to 80 days. Furthermore, those who are prosecuted could be forbidden from returning to the abortion facilities for up to three years.
María Teresa Angulo Romero of the People’s Party said that the proposed law is not about preventing coercion but penalises “fundamental rights such as freedom of speech or assembly because what underlies is a sectarian limitation of rights because of the ideas of those who exercise them”.
She added: “You don’t want to penalise supposed coercion. If so, your proposal would be unnecessary because the Penal Code already covers coercion. You want to prohibit the right of assembly or free speech where and by whom you don’t like”.
“The majority of activities are more passive in nature”
There have been a number of calls in the UK from abortion campaigners over the past few years to introduce censorship zones outside abortion clinics with similar arguments being offered both for and against their introduction.
In 2018, the then Home Secretary, 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”.
More recently, the women’s health minister in Scotland has said that the Scottish Government will not support the introduction of “a blanket buffer zone around all abortion clinics”.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “Legislation already exists to prevent harassment and wherever genuine harassment occurs, it should be prevented under existing legislation. This holds true in the UK as well as Spain, which also has laws preventing harassment. Laws that create censorship zones outside abortion clinics are a targeted attack on those who hold a specific view and want to persuade others of it. They are a direct and discriminatory attack on the freedom of belief and expression”.