The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland has spoken out against the decision of the UK Supreme Court to deem buffer zones around abortion clinics legal in Northern Ireland.
This week’s judgement ruled that the creation of 100 ft buffer zone criminalising praying quietly or silently, and handing out leaflets, does not infringe on the rights of pro-life campaigners.
Most Rev Eamon Martin said the ruling increases fears that freedom of religion, belief, expression and association are being undermined and open to attack
“The way has now been paved by the UK Supreme Court to impose exclusion zones outside centres in Northern Ireland that provide or facilitate abortions. This is tantamount to enforcing a ban on pro-life activities, including prayer and respectful witness, outside such settings.
“Buffer zones will further silence the voice of the innocent unborn. Given that the law already prevents harassment and intimidation, I believe the new legislation represents a disproportionate response with potentially wide implications for freedom of religion and speech.”
The ruling insists that human rights are not violated.
It reads: "First, the context is a highly sensitive one in which the protection of the private lives and autonomy of women is of particular importance.
"Secondly, women who wish to access lawful abortion services have a reasonable expectation of being able to do so without being confronted by protest activity designed to challenge and diminish their autonomy and undermine their resolve.
"Thirdly, the Bill only prevents anti-abortion protestors from exercising their rights under articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention within designated safe access zones. They are free to protest anywhere else they please."
Archbishop Eamon asserts that women going into an abortion clinic who may be feeling “isolated, neglected and alone in their distress”, are now being blocked from help accessible help.
“Over the years many mothers in crisis have felt supported - sometimes at the very last minute - by a sensitive offer of practical help to find a way out of their crisis other than by ending the life of their unborn baby,” he said.
“It is perfectly reasonable to want to reach out in compassion to help vulnerable women and to be free to protect the life and well-being of both a mother and her unborn child”.
He added: “The punitive sanctions being introduced will undermine the Common Good as they disproportionately shut down the rights of those who wish to peacefully and prayerfully offer support and alternative options and to save the lives of innocent unborn children”.
Many local councils in England have created buffer zones, including in Ealing and Bournemouth.