Christian and pro-life witness outside abortion centres is a lifeline for some women who are considering abortion.
Groups like 40 Days for Life and the Good Counsel Network have arranged peaceful groups to pray and gently offer help near abortion clinics for years.
Women arriving at abortion centres are not always sure of what they want. Some feel forced into an unwanted abortion by a partner or family member. Others simply don’t think they can handle the responsibility of motherhood.
Local groups that are ready and willing to provide support can be a great blessing to these mothers – and save lives as they do so.
But these ministries are under threat due to plans to introduce ‘safe access zones’, also known as buffer zones.
Buffer zones protect the abortion industry, not women
An amendment to the Public Order Bill last year introduced ‘safe access zones’ into law. Pro-abortion politicians claimed that women are harassed and this measure was needed to protect women.
But this was never about protecting women – it was about protecting abortion clinics and making sure that women attending appointments never see the alternative.
The government is now consulting on its proposed guidance on how safe access zones should be implemented.
This is a chance to make sure that peaceful presences near abortion centres are allowed to continue helping women and save lives.
How to respond
Christian Concern and the Christian Legal Centre have responded to the consultation (read our response).
Please use the links and information below to make your voice heard and to protect pro-life ministries.
You will need to write your response in your own words.
The deadline for responses is Monday 22 January 2024 at 11.59pm.
Some of the most important points to make include:
Please point out that the guidance fails to point out that act provides and exemption for people accompanying service users and providers with their consent.
This is important given that some women attend appointments with a partner, friend or family member, unsure about whether they want to proceed with an abortion. Many women who regret their abortions say that once they entered a clinic, they felt like they were on a conveyor belt with abortion as the only outcome. A CQC report in 2017 said that one clinic had a “cattle market culture”. Staff felt “encouraged” to push women towards abortions because it was “linked to their performance bonus”.
It’s therefore vital that women are free to have a person accompanying them who is free to advise them that abortion is not the only option.
Conversations within clinics themselves should not be considered unlawful. A patient who is upset about how the clinic has treated her should not be at risk of prosecution for complaining, even if other service users are within earshot.
The guidance should also make it clear that conversations within hospital chapels, where the hospital also contains an abortion clinic, are lawful.
The guidance helpfully explains that “A hospital chaplain giving a religious view on abortion to a patient who is not at the hospital for abortion services would not be captured by the offence.” But a hospital chaplain should not be obligated to first assess whether a patient is in the hospital for abortion services before expressing religious views. A hospital chaplain should be able to express religious views to anyone at the hospital, especially when asked. This should apply to everyone in the hospital whether they are employed by the hospital or not. A patient who complains to another patient about what happened when she had an abortion should not be at risk of committing an offence.
The guidance helpfully states that police should not approach someone for simply wearing a religious item such as a crucifix necklace or hijab, or for carrying rosary beads. This note should also reference carrying a Bible and wearing clothes that contain Bible quotes.
The guidance should expand on the right to manifest their beliefs under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Restrictions of that freedom must be shown to be necessary and proportionate. Police should be advised explicitly that peaceful, pro-life groups, whose actions cannot reasonably construed as harassment, should not be interfered with.
Please include the point that the guidance rightly emphasises the importance of police officer training on the rights protected under the European Convention on Human Rights. Ask for the guidance to be made more robust by containing further examples where it would not be proportionate or necessary to interfere with free speech. For example, it would not be proportionate to interfere with a pro-life or religious presence that is non-confrontational and cannot reasonably be viewed as intimidating or harassing service users.
Respond to the consultation by Monday 22 January at 11:59pm.