MPs have voted in favour of an amendment to the Government’s Public Order Bill which will introduce national buffer zones. Buffer zones are areas around clinics where certain abortion-specific harassment such a displaying graphic signs, following and filming women, and repeatedly approaching women and doctors are not allowed. Humanists UK briefed MPs in the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) ahead of the debate. It has welcomed the vote, which was 297 to 110 in favour.
Stella Creasy, who introduced the amendment, highlighted how half the women who access abortion services – some 100,000 women a year – are targeted by anti-abortion groups when they are treated by a clinic or hospital. She emphasised that the tightly drawn amendment sets up parameters for freedom of expression to be upheld while protecting women from harassment.
Steve McCabe, member of the APPHG, provided an example of how the current legislation is inadequate. Buffer zones can be created through public spaces protection orders (PSPOs), tools that allow local authorities to prevent certain anti-social activity taking place in certain areas. However he, and others taking part in the debate, highlighted how PSPOs are time-consuming and expensive to obtain. Of the 50 sites being targeted in the last three years, only five clinics are protected by PSPOs.
MPs from all parties except the DUP expressed their support for the amendment. Those expressing their support included Caroline Nokes, Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, Sir Bernard Jenkins, Dame Maria Miller, Sir Charles Walker, Victoria Atkins, Huw Merriman, and David Simmonds from the Conversative Party; Olivia Blake, Sarah Jones and John McDonnell from the Labour Party; Wendy Chamberlain from the Liberal Democrats; and Caroline Lucas from the Green Party. Joanne Cherry and Anne McLaughlin from the SNP also expressed support, although the matter is devolved to Scotland.
Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson commented:
‘We are delighted this vote has passed. Free speech is of course vital but it should not extend to a right to disrupt others’ ability to access essential medical services. The past decade has seen growing harassment of women accessing abortion clinics and it has been clear for some time now that this amendment is needed.’
For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone 020 7324 3072 or 07534 248 596.
Read the briefing, prepared by bpas and supported by Humanists UK.
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