Parliament could drop proposal to legalise UK-wide ‘buffer zones’

27 January 2023

Rebekah Moffett, Communications Officer, comments on parliamentary proposals to review ‘activities’ outside abortion clinics to assess whether ‘buffer zones’ are necessary.

Towards the end of last year, MPs in the House of Commons voted in favour of an amendment to the Public Order Bill which would impose censorship zones around abortion clinics across England and Wales. The amendment, which hijacked the Bill, was introduced by Labour MP Stella Creasy and passed in the House of Commons at its third reading by 297 to 110 votes.

The bill then crossed over to the House of Lords, where the amendment was passed once again, despite many Lords speaking out against it. Shortly after, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, revealed that clause 9, as it was written at the time and still stands, was incompatible with the European Convention of Human Rights. However, at the time, he also outlined the government’s intention to redraft the amendment and give it a free vote, signalling its likelihood at becoming law.

The clause intended to criminalise ‘advising’, ‘persuading’, ‘informing’, “or otherwise express[ing] an opinion” outside an abortion facility, with the threat of a two-year prison sentence and/or a £5,000 fine.

However, in a recently published amendment to the bill, Clause 9 now appears as if it is set to be scrapped.

Lord Farmer, who has been vocal in the House of Lords in opposing this amendment, has now put forward an alternative amendment which would leave out Clause 9 in its entirety. Instead, a review into activities around abortion facilities could take place, investigating the effectiveness of existing legislation. The new proposals aren’t short, but, again, are worth quoting in their entirety:

Leave out Clause 9 and insert the following new Clause—

“Review into certain activities taking place outside abortion clinics in England and Wales

1. The Secretary of State must arrange for the carrying out of a review into activities taking place in the vicinity of abortion clinics in England and Wales which could influence any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services.
2. The review must include evidence from and consultation with the following—
          a. the operators of abortion providers,
          b. owners and occupiers of the land within proposed buffer zones,
          c. the National Police Chiefs Council,
          d. individuals, charities and organisations impacted by proposed buffer zones,
          e. the relevant local authorities,
          f. the public, and,
         g. such other persons or organisations as appropriate.
3. The review must consider the effectiveness of existing relevant powers including, but not limited to, the power under section 59 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 (power to make public spaces protection orders).
4. The review must assess the necessity of further legislation in this area, and whether legislating further would be proportionate.
5. The Secretary of State must publish and lay before each House of Parliament a report on the outcome of the review before the end of the period of one year beginning with the day on which this section comes into force.”

House of Lords vote

The amendment to this clause is due to be voted on in the House of Lords early next week. If passed, it would prevent the introduction of buffer zones around all abortion facilities in England and Wales.

Instead of legislating to introduce these censorship zones, a review into the ‘activities’ around abortion centres, as well as the effectiveness of current legislation, would take place. This would be a significant improvement, as it leaves room for the truth to be revealed: harassment is already illegal and pro-life volunteers are more often the victims of threats, attacks and harassment from members of the public who oppose their presence.

Pray for protection of pro-life free speech

Let’s pray that the freedom to share pro-life views outside abortion facilities in the UK would be protected.

Pray also for our cases in Birmingham and Bournemouth, where we are challenging the introduction of so-called ‘buffer zones’ around certain clinics in the local areas.

As the number of abortions taking place rises year on year – sadly the UK has now surpassed 10 million abortions since the passing of the Abortion Act – it is vital that women know that there is another option. The freedom to help, support and give women that other option is at stake. Let’s pray that through this amendment and potential review, more women and unborn children would be protected and given the help they really need.

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