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UK Supreme Court rules in favour of abortion clinic buffer zones which could ban prayer

by Marcus Jones
REUTERS / Alamy Stock Photo

Seven Supreme Court judges have ruled that 'buffer zones' around abortion clinics are legal and don't interfere with the rights of pro-life campaigners.

They were asked to rule by Northern Ireland's Attorney General.

Brenda King was concerned laws passed in Northern Ireland earlier this year could conflict with laws around freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression, and freedom of assembly.

Buffer zones are geographical areas which surround an abortion clinic preventing any attempt to influence a woman seeking a termination.

Behaviour such as prayer or pastoral support to women could be included.

Explaining why the laws don't interfere with human rights, the ruling said: "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."

Campaign group ADF International has been defending the rights for pro-life campaigners.

Responding to the verdict: "We are of course disappointed to see today’s ruling from the Supreme Court, which fails to protect the basic freedoms to pray or to offer help to women who may want to know about practical support available to avoid abortion. Peaceful presence, mere conversation, quiet or silent prayer - these activities should never be criminalised in a democratic society like the UK.

"Westminster’s attempt to ban such activities is much further reaching than Northern Ireland’s - banning 'informing', 'advising', 'persuading', or even 'occupying space' or 'expressing opinion', with a penalty of up to two years in prison. This is clearly grossly disproportionate. Nobody should be censored for simply holding pro-life beliefs."

While this judgement covers Northern Ireland, it could act as a precedent for other laws being passed in Westminster and Holyrood which would bring about a nationwide introduction of buffer zones.

Currently several local councils have implemented the zones independently.

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