Press Release

Judge upholds criminalising prayer and Bible in Bournemouth abortion clinic buffer zone

15 December 2023         Issued by: Christian Concern

Today (15 Dec) a High Court judge has ruled that it is lawful to criminalise prayer and reading from the Bible in a buffer zone surrounding an abortion clinic in Bournemouth.

In a ruling handed down by Lord Justice Warby and Mrs Justice Thornton, the judges suggested that in their view there was a ‘right’ to abortion in English law despite abortion outside of the 1967 Abortion Act remaining a crime.

The ruling followed a legal challenge by two Christian groups, Christian Concern and Livia Tossici-Bolt, a former clinical scientist, who leads 40 Days for life Bournemouth.

At the High Court in October, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, they had challenged the validity of the 150m exclusion zone surrounding the British Pregnancy Advisory Group’s (BPAS) clinic in Ophir Road.

The statutory challenge and judicial review scrutinised the decision of Bournemouth, Christchurch and Poole Council’s to force through a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) in October 2022 following what lawyers described as an ‘unlawful’ public consultation.

The zone was brought in under section 67 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.
In January 2023, following an amendment to the Public Order Bill, ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics were brought in nationally.

Politicians and campaigners have described them as deeply draconian measures that criminalise free speech and prevent vulnerable women from access to alternatives to abortion, which the ministry of 40 Days for Life provides.

Under the measures, vigils, offering support and praying in the zone could result in a fine and six months in prison.

The buffer zone in Bournemouth is unique in that the way it has been drawn up by the local authority means that the exclusion zone covers both public spaces and private homes.

At the hearing, Lawyers had argued that if someone were to be heard and seen from the street praying against abortion in their home from the street, this could result in a prison sentence.

The Christian groups had therefore challenged the decision to introduce the legislation on the grounds that the council did not have the power under the 2014 Act to make a PSPO which restricts and criminalises otherwise lawful activities conducted in private places.

Lawyers said that the council did not have the power under the 2014 Act to allow the police to move members of the public from the zone with the threat of being fined and arrested. They argued that this is ‘incompatible’ with the powers given by parliament to the police and is an ‘abuse’ of the Act.

Furthermore, lawyers said that the PSPO was unlawfully made in the absence of any consultation with the Chief Constable of the Dorset police, as is required, and that the PSPO was made without authority since it was not passed by Council Resolution.

PSPOs were introduced in 2014 with the intent: “to help ensure that the law-abiding majority can use and enjoy public spaces, safe from antisocial behaviour.” The guidance emphasises that PSPOs must be narrowly drafted: “given that these orders can restrict what people can do and how they behave in public spaces it is important that the restrictions imposed are focussed on specific behaviours and are proportionate to the detrimental effect that the behaviour is causing or can cause…”.

The legislation has usually been reserved for tackling anti-social behaviour such as dog fouling and drink and drug abuse in local communities.

However, the legislation has also been politically weaponised by authorities to criminalise ‘any act of disapproval’ of abortion outside of clinics.

The legislation has especially been used to prohibit the ministry of 40 Days for Life, not just in Bournemouth but across the UK. The PSPO prevents any discussion of abortion or offers of help within the designated exclusion area. This includes prayer, reading from the Bible, making the sign of the cross, counselling and providing information and support available to women in crisis pregnancies. This is despite a number of lives being saved as a direct result of their vigils.

The PSPO has also given power to ‘designated’ members of the public to essentially spy on the zone and facilitate the removal of anyone perceived to be breaking the PSPO order.

Since the launch of the buffer zone, there have been reports of ‘prayer patrol officers’ from the council monitoring the zone who have ordered volunteers to move on accusing them of “intimidation, harassment or distress” simply because they were praying.


Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said they will appeal the ruling and that: “Peaceful witness near abortion centres are helpful to many women in crisis pregnancies, offering genuine choice by providing support. Whatever the guidance or law says, arresting peaceful pro-lifers in these zones clearly breaches their human rights.”

“The measures brought in by Bournemouth Council are disturbing in that they prevent women from being given access to alternatives to abortion. 

“We see women choosing life for their children because of the presence of groups like 40 Days for Life outside clinics.

“There is no evidence whatsoever to show that anyone is being harassed outside abortion clinics. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the abortion supporters who intimidate and harass and do not permit the viewpoint that shows the women a pathway of life and hope.

“Following the introduction of Pills by Post at home abortions, the offer of help to women outside abortion clinics is one of the few lifelines left to those who feel helpless and coerced into going through with an abortion.

“Buffer zones are an oppressive part of the current culture which force consent and silence dissent. The saddest thing of all is that we are actually talking about human lives.

“We stand with 40 Days for Life as they seek justice in this case. We call on MPs and the government to turn back the introduction of oppressive buffer zones across the UK.”

Responding to the ruling, Mrs Tossici-Bolt said: “Everyone must have the freedom to pray quietly in a public place. Everyone must have the freedom to give and to receive information. I, and my group of volunteers, would never dream of doing something that causes intimidation and harassment and I find extremely concerning that unfounded accusations of such reprehensible behaviour have been used for ideological gains to discredit genuine humanitarian endeavours. We have already been intimidated out of exercising our freedom of thought and of expression, but have continued to defend these fundamental rights with a peaceful conduct.

“We are very disappointed by the judge’s ruling and will continue to support women in crisis pregnancies and will continue to fight for justice. ”

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