MPs Vote To Install "Buffer Zones" Outside Abortion Clinics
The proposed law would make harassing, obstructing, or interfering with any one attending an abortion clinic a criminal offence in England & Wales.
Trigger Warning: This article contains mentions of abortion and harassment.
Following the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the U.S., the fight for reproductive rights has increasingly come under the spotlight the world over. In the UK specifically, the conversation surrounding the right to a safe abortion has taken huge steps in the right direction. Anti-choice protestors have been allowed to campaign directly outside abortion clinics, but MPs have voted to establish buffer zones around clinics and hospitals offering abortions.
On Oct. 18, MPs in the House of Commons voted in a 297 to 110 majority to support an amendment to the Public Order Bill, which legislates on buffer zones. This new measure imposes exclusion areas around abortion clinics and hospitals, which prevents anti-abortion protestors (or any other type of demonstration) from standing outside the clinic, hospital, or in the near area of up to 150 metres from a clinic in England and Wales.
However, it’s important to note that this vote does not automatically make this piece of legislation law. The bill now faces several stages before then, including scrutiny in the House of Lords. Similar legislation has been proposed in Scotland, as reported by the BBC.
The Advocacy and Public Affairs Advisor of MSI Reproductive Choices UK, Louise McCudden, said this decision “marks the culmination of years of inspirational campaigning,” adding that “for decades, our teams around the country have been forced to witness the cruel tactics of anti-abortion groups who have had a free pass to harass people attending our clinics, invade their space and attempt to block their right to healthcare.”
The chief executive of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, Clare Murphy, also said she was “delighted” that politicians voted to “protect women, protect healthcare staff, and establish buffer zones.” She added that the leading abortion provider had campaigned “tirelessly” for almost a decade to stop “anti-abortion clinic harassment.”
Those who break this new buffer zone legislation could face up to six months in prison upon their first offence. But for repeat offences, they could spend as long as two years in jail for breaking the “buffer zone” restrictions.
Labour MP for Walthamstow and abortion rights campaigner, Stella Creasy proposed the amendment and, of the buffer zones, said: “It does not stop free speech on abortion. It does not stop people protesting. It simply says you shouldn’t have the right to do this in the face of somebody — and very often these people are right up in front of people.”