Catholic Bishops in England and Wales say proposals to impose buffer zones outside abortion facilities raise concerns about freedom of religion, belief, association and expression.
In October MPs voted in favour of implementing nationwide buffer zones outside abortion clinics in England and Wales. Under the proposed law, harassing, obstructing or interfering with any woman attending an abortion clinic would become a criminal offence and any person breaching the zones could face up to six months in jail.
Speaking at a press conference, Bishop John Sherrington who is an auxiliary Bishop in the Diocese of Westminster, said there were concerns over Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill which currently seeks to criminalise a range of activities within a 150 metre radius of an abortion clinic. The amendment was proposed by the Labour MP Stella Creasy.
Bishop Sherrington said Bishops had passed the resolution because of concerns over religious freedom:
"Its (Clause 9) broad formulation is disproportionate and unnecessary. Its implications extend beyond the perimeters of an abortion clinic and raise questions about the state's powers in relation to the individual in a free society, both those with faith and those without.
"This legislative proposal extends trends at a local level, which have seen Public Space Protection Orders banning prayer and the recitation of Scripture. We express concern with these moves at local level too.
"There is a risk, despite any other intent, that existing and proposed measures constitute discrimination and disproportionately have an impact on people of religious faith.
"We condemn all harassment and intimidation of women as they may be approaching an abortion clinic. We agree with the 2018 Home Office Review that there are already laws and mechanisms in place to protect women from such behaviour.
"Our concern is that this clause goes much further and we are concerned about the protection of religious freedom which is essential for the flourishing and dignity of every person."
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) says that since 2018, 42 clinics across England and Wales have experienced anti-abortion protests.