- In public consultation, only 13 of 6412 submissions were supportive of implementing “buffer zones” around abortion facilities
- Mothers criticise Bill as a “ban on help” for vulnerable women at the point of need
BELFAST (22.03.2022) – Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly will today decide whether to ban pro-life help from being offered on public streets near abortion facilities. The “Abortion Service (Safe Access Zones) Bill” would make it a criminal offence to “influenc[e]… a… person [seeking an abortion], whether directly or indirectly” within “safe access zones”. This legislation would effectively criminalise any form of counselling, offer of material help or even prayer nearby an abortion facility.
Alina Dulgheriu, a mother who benefitted from the offer of pro-life support outside an abortion clinic, gave a statement on the behalf of the group “Be Here for Me”, urging politicians not to criminalise help:
“The support I received from peaceful volunteers outside the clinic where my abortion was scheduled changed my life. My daughter’s life was saved because of them. Please don’t criminalise offering help to women when they need it most.”
Controversial measures limit choices for women
At Committee Stage of the Bill, a public consultation was undertaken with only 13 of the 6,412 submissions from members of the public being supportive of the measure to censor the streets around abortion facilities.
Proponents of the Bill claim that the legislation is designed to prevent “harassment” of women. However, a Home Office review of the need for “buffer zones” in 2018 showed that any instances of harassment outside of abortion facilities are rare outliers. In the event of any such issue, police already have sufficient powers to tackle unlawful conduct.
Women who have received the offer of support outside of an abortion facility have posted about their experiences online in the hope that such offers will remain open for other women. Read their stories at www.behereforme.org.
“In the name of protecting ‘choice’, censorship zones actually remove real choice. Recent BBC polling shows that a significant number of women feel “coerced” into an abortion. Others feel pressured into this outcome by economic or social circumstances. A ban on help outside abortion facilities takes away an empowering lifeline that some women would like to choose to accept. Telling woman what they do or don’t want – what they would or should feel “offended” by – is truly patronising. Why ban a genuine offer of financial, material or emotional support?” said Lois McLatchie, Communications Officer for ADF UK.
Tomorrow’s vote comes only one week after new polling from the BBC shows that more than one in ten women have felt “coerced” into having an abortion.
Bans on help being considered across the UK and Europe
Similar measures have already been brought into effect by local authorities in Richmond and Ealing. Bans on pro-life activity in certain streets in these areas have even criminalised silent, internal prayer.
Campaigners are agitating for a similar ban to be rolled out across Scotland, despite Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd stating that she did not consider such blanket legislation to be “appropriate”. Meanwhile in Germany yesterday, a court upheld a decision to overturn an existing “buffer zone” policy, ruling in favour of the right of prayer group “40 Days for Life” to assemble and pray near an abortion facility.
“The blanket censorship of prayer and offers of charitable support in public spaces is an unwarranted and disproportionate interference with the fundamental rights of freedom of speech and assembly. Free speech includes the right to both receive and impart information and ideas without interference by public authorities. It is not for the government to decide whether a woman wants to hear and receive an offer of support.
Any intimidation and harassment that these proposals seek to prevent can already be addressed through existing legislation. Rather than a blanket and untargeted prohibition on speech, efforts should be made to ensure law enforcers use the powers already available to them where any issues arise. Legislators should seriously consider the longterm costs of censorship. The free and frank exchange of views is the fabric of a truly liberal and democratic society,” said Jeremiah Igunnubole, Legal Counsel for ADF UK.