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Politics

Ban on praying and protesting outside abortion clinics discussed in Parliament

by Press Association

Rupa Huq MP has raised the topic of buffer zones in the House of Commons, arguing that legislation would help protect women who attend clinics from intimidation. Fiona Bruce responded that such a law would damage free speech. 

She spoke as part of a Ten Minute Rule Bill, where a backbench MP can make their case for a new bill and another MP can oppose it.  They rarely become law but bring publicity to an issue. 

The bill passed but is not guaranteed further time for debate in Parliament, however it could make progress if the Government opts to help.

Raising concerns that some clinic users in the UK have previously had their arms grabbed, been filmed and been handed graphic leaflets by protesters outside clinics, Ms Huq explained the Bill is not about debating whether abortion is right or wrong.

She said: “The demands in this Bill are not new and although its title includes the word ‘abortion’, the termination of pregnancy is not at issue here.

“Not number of weeks or anything of that nature.

“This is about women being able to present themselves for legal healthcare free from intimidation.”

 

 

The Labour MP also warned that the UK could go “down the road of America” and highlighted reports that medical professionals in the country had been targeted by demonstrators.

She said: “We do not want to go down the road of America where we’ve heard horrific stories of medical professionals’ cars being booby-trapped and all sorts of scary things.

“We don’t want to go down that road which is where I fear we could head if action is not taken now.

“This is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion.

“While emotions run high and there are sincerely held opinions on both sides of that argument, we have to accept that it’s been legal for 50 years in this country.

“This is about the rights of vulnerable women seeking access to health care in safety, anonymity and dignity.”

Speaking in opposition to the legislation, Conservative Fiona Bruce (MP for Congleton) described the Bill as “dangerous”, suggesting that it could have “far-reaching implications”.

She told the Commons: “Let me be clear, I do not condone aggressive protest activities outside abortion clinics, but these are in the minority and imposing national legislation where it is not required to tackle these would be a drastic overreaction.

“A drastic overreaction because of the potential damage this Bill could do to the more widely held freedom of speech in this country.”

 

Ms Bruce continued: “Not only freedom of speech could be threatened, but also freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the right to peaceably protest, the right to receive information.

“Fundamental liberties underpinning our democracy and many hard won.

“This is a dangerous Bill with potentially far-reaching implications.”

She added: “Everyone has the right to free speech within the law.

“This includes the right to say things which, though lawful, others may find disturbing or upsetting.”

MPs voted to allow Ms Huq to introduce the Bill to the Commons by 213 votes to 47, majority 166, with Ms Huq asking for it to be given a second reading on September 11.

The call for legislation to be introduced follows a review conducted by the Home Office last year into protests outside abortion clinics which found that unlawful activities are “rare” and are “not the norm”.

The department has indicated however that it is keeping the matter “under review” and would be interested to hear of developments that had occurred since the review took place.

A Home Office spokesman said: “This is a sensitive and complex issue, which is why last year we conducted an in-depth review of protests outside abortion clinics.

“The right to protest is a vital part of a democratic society, but it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated, and we are clear we expect the police to take action in such cases.

“There are already powers in place for police and local authorities to restrict harmful protests and the previous home secretary (Sajid Javid) asked the police to work closely with abortion services, to ensure that all those visiting these services are not subjected to harassment or intimation.”

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