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UK News

MPs meeting with Home Office about draft plans to allow silent prayer in abortion clinic buffer zones

by Tola Mbakwe

It's been reported that the Home Office has issued draft guidance which would allow silent prayer in and around abortion clinic buffer zones.

According to Sky News, MPs will meet with the Home Secretary James Cleverly on Thursday to protest the changes.

The non-statutory guidance published in December states: "Silent prayer, being the engagement of the mind and thought in prayer towards God, is protected as an absolute right under the Human Rights Act 1998 and should not, on its own, be considered to be an offence under any circumstances. However, where an individual is praying, but their conduct is also intrusive[footnote 1], this is likely to be an offence under section 9."

What is still prohibited under the guidance is:

- Influencing a person's decision to access, provide or facilitate the provision of abortion services;

- Obstructing or impeding someone's access to, or provision or facilitation of services at, an abortion clinic; or

- Causing harassment, alarm or distress to anyone in connection with a decision to access, provide or facilitate the provision of services at the abortion clinic.

The documents also states: "The offence requires someone to intend or be reckless to causing at least one of the effects above, so those holding pro-life views are not committing an offence by merely being within the Safe Access Zone. In addition to assessing the relevant activity, due regard must be given to the intention and motive of anyone suspected of committing an offence."

It's been reported Labour MP Rupa Huq and Conservative MP Sir Bernard Jenkin will be addressing concerns around the draft guidance.

In October 2022, Parliament voted to approve the Public Order Bill, which would introduce a law to stop certain activities within 150 metres of an abortion clinic or a hospital that provides abortion services, known as "Safe Access Zones". However, the Home Office acknowledged that debates on the Bill showed that "determining the appropriate balance between competing interests will not always be straightforward".

That led to a Home Office's six-week consultation on the issue, which ended last week.

The purpose was to strike the right balance of allowing anyone to access abortion services without feeling harassed, while also giving people the "rights to gather, to express views and to manifest religious beliefs" no matter how "uncomfortable they are to others, providing they do so within the law".

A Home Office spokesperson said: "It is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated whilst exercising their legal right to access abortion services.

"We are currently considering all responses to the consultation and final guidance will be published in due course."

Many Christians have been arrested and prosecuted for praying inside buffer zones, which have been introduced by five local councils.

Religious freedom group ADF International, which has been supporting those involved in such cases, told Premier in October 2023 that the government has begun to realise that the law is not clear enough.

Spokesperson Lois McClatchie Miller told Premier the government may be beginning to understand the problem with this law.

She said: "The problem is that this legislation is so vague and difficult for police to understand and difficult for citizens to understand so it results in these cases where people are put through difficult trials, simply for having prayed in their head."

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