A new bill seeking to introduce buffer zones outside abortion clinics in order to stop people from praying and demonstrating has failed to pass its second reading in the House of Commons.
The bill, introduced by Labour MP Rupa Huq, would have criminalised prayer and made it illegal for pro-life campaigners to offer support to women travelling to clinics for abortions. Such activity would have been prohibited within 150 metres of the clinics, with violations resulting in a maximum prison sentence of two years.
The new piece of legislation was axed before it reached the second reading after an objection was lodged by government whip Rebecca Harris.
In 2017, a review was launched by former Home Secretary Amber Rudd into the effects of vigils taking place outside abortion clinics and to see whether there was any merit in attempting to introduce buffer zones.
However, when the review was taken over by Sajid Javid in 2018, he found that such a step would not be necessary. "Introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature," Javid said at the time. "In making my decision, I am also aware that legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others.”
In response to the latest bill failing to progress, Right to Life UK's spokesperson Catherine Robinson said:
“It is good news that this radical abortion clinic censorship bill has failed to pass through the Commons. This is often the case with Ten Minute Rule Bills, however, the extreme changes proposed in this particular Bill were very worrying.
"Sadly, this is unlikely to be the last we hear from the abortion lobby. While this Bill is very unlikely to become law, the abortion lobby will likely be back very soon with their next attempt to criminalise support outside abortion clinics.
“By attempting to restrict women facing unplanned pregnancies from receiving compassionate, emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ lobby reveal their opposition to real choice for women and revealing they’re really just pro-abortion.
“Many babies are alive today because their mothers were able to receive the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic.
“We would, therefore, encourage the Government not to give this Bill any more time. In doing so, they would send a clear signal that women should not be denied the choice of life-saving support for them and their baby.”
Last week, and prior to the legislation failing in the Commons, Rachael Clarke of The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) told the Independent that abortion clinic protesters "pressure and harass individual women who are trying to access the healthcare they’re guaranteed under the law".
"These women deserve to access this care without being followed, lied to, and frightened by groups of people who place their own beliefs above compassion and care for women in the most difficult of circumstances," Clarke added.
"Despite what the government has said before, these protests are not small scale or local problems. More than half of all women who had an abortion in 2019 had to go to a clinic targeted by these groups. It is essential that new legislation is passed to protect women’s privacy and their ability to access healthcare without harassment.”