The UK government has said the issue of buffer zones for abortion clinics “remains under review” as the debate intensifies over abortion and the right to protest.
Politicians and pro-abortion organizations in the UK have called for a nationwide network of “buffer zones” to limit anti-abortion protests near abortion clinics.
On May 30, the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health Care (FSRH), which represents more than 14,000 UK doctors, released a new position paper saying even silent protests, such as prayer, can be ‘intimidating’ .
Dr. Asha Kasliwal, President of FSRH, said: “The only way to ensure that patients can access healthcare without harassment or intimidation is through the legal implementation of buffer zones around abortion clinics across the country. UK.
Dr Edward Morris, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (RCOG), added: “Abortion care is an essential sexual and reproductive health service, and buffer zones must be introduced to ensure that privacy and the rights of those who access the services are respected.
In response, the UK Home Office said the right to protest is a “vital part of a democratic society”, but it is “completely unacceptable for women accessing health services to feel harassed or intimidated”.
“Police and local authorities have the power to restrict harmful protests and we expect them to take action in such cases,” the spokeswoman said.
“The issue of abortion buffer zones remains under review and we continue to monitor the prevalence of these manifestations, with the well-being of women at the center of our concerns,” she added.
The Home Office has previously rejected the idea of implementing nationwide legislation on buffer zones around abortion facilities.
In 2018, following a thorough review, then Home Secretary Sajid Javid decided that introducing protest-free zones outside clinics ‘would not be a proportionate response’ .
His successor Priti Patel has pledged in 2020 that the government will again revise the rules around protests near abortion clinics.
Earlier this month the Scottish Government voiced support for the introduction of buffer zones.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on May 12 that she “strongly” supported calls for buffer zones. She will chair an emergency summit next month and said her government was “actively considering” how to legislate the issue.
The right to protest
On May 27, a group of cross-party MPs proposed an amendment to the Public Order Bill to introduce buffer zones around clinics, which is expected to be debated in June.
During a debate in the House of Commons on May 23, Kit Malthouse, the Minister for Crime and Policing, questioned the support of pro-abortion MPs for the crackdown on anti-abortion protests as they supported clearly the demonstrations for other causes.
He was “honestly and sincerely perplexed by the argument about buffer zones,” Malthouse said, adding: “I understand the sensitivity of this particular situation, but why do we oppose and are we prepared to restrict this particular form of protest, but No others?”
He asked MPs if they were “possibly guilty of wanting to ban only protests” they disagreed with.
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), a British pro-life campaign and education organization, said pro-abortion MPs were trying to “demonize people who attend pro-life vigils” and “making wild accusations without any basis in fact.
Alithea Williams, SPUC’s public policy officer, said: “The fact that they want to ban people from giving evidence quietly outside of clinics and often offer a lifeline to women who want to keep their babies, shows that they cannot tolerate any opposition to the abortion narrative.”
She echoed Malthouse’s comments about inconsistencies in pro-abortion politicians’ stance on the right to protest, saying, “Clearly their defense of the right to protest does not extend to pro-lifers.”
She added: “We call on the government to uphold the rights of pro-life people to peacefully testify against the tragedy of abortion, and we will be vigilant in opposing any attempt to introduce buffer zones through this bill or any other bill”.
PA Media contributed to this report.