Thursday, 12 March 2020
Campaign response - Put a stop to anti-abortion protests outside clinics
Thank you very much to constituents for getting in touch with me with the above titled email.
I recognise abortion is an emotive topic, and I thank them for their measured approach to the debate.
No woman should face harassment or assault in any circumstances. This is why I support section 5 of the Public Order Act 1986 (which makes harassment illegal), and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997. Where harassment or assault happens, there are wide powers to prosecute under these laws, as well as the Criminal Justice Act 1998.
Regarding some of the specific examples you referenced regrading accosting women, of note in 2018, the former Home Secretary Sajid Javid completed a large review on the matter and found that, in 2017 and found that of the “363 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales that carried out abortions”, “36 hospitals and clinics have experienced anti-abortion demonstrations,” and while “ the review gathered upsetting examples of harassment and the damaging impact this behaviour has had on individuals,” it also found that it was “clear from the evidence we gathered is that these activities are not the norm, and predominantly, anti-abortion activities are more passive in nature. The main activities reported to us that take place during protests include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets. There were relatively few reports of the more aggressive activities described above.”
The former Home Secretary went on, stating: “Nevertheless, I recognise that all anti-abortion activities can have an adverse effect, and I would like to extend my sympathies to those going through this extremely difficult and personal process. … Having considered the evidence of the review, I have therefore reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature.
In making my decision, I am also aware that legislation already exists to restrict protest activities that cause harm to others…”
I agree with him and would extend my sincerest sympathies to women going through a difficult choice. I also believe it is important to note that if ensuring women avoid ‘distress’ is the reasoning behind buffer zones, this must be weighed against the women saved from distress, who would have deeply regretted their abortion, or the joy that being enabled to keep a wanted child brings. Indeed, many women have received great support from people outside abortion clinics, something which may not happen if buffer zones were introduced. The website “BeHereForMe” (https://behereforme.org/#stories) has many testimonies from individual women explaining how the support they received outside the abortion clinic changed their life for the better.
Finally, referring back to the Statement by the former Home Secretary: He concludes noting that “In this country, it is a long-standing tradition that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views. This is something to be rightly proud of. However, it is vital that how views are demonstrated is carried out within the law, and never more so than on such an issue that can have such a personal impact on individuals...and I am adamant that where a crime is committed, the police have the powers to act so that people feel protected”. (see https://www.parliament.uk/business/publications/written-questions-answers-statements/written-statement/Commons/2018-09-13/HCWS958)
I agree that we should be proud of our” long-standing tradition that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views,” and also believe the introduction of buffer zones would also be an infringement on this, and our human rights. Indeed, the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, freedom of expression, the right to liberty, and the right to receive information is established in international and domestic law and is in part why individuals such as Peter Tatchall, and groups such as the Manifesto Club, Big Brother Watch, Index on Censorship, and the Freedom Association all oppose the introduction of buffer zones.
I hope this clearly explains my position in regard to buffer zones, and though constituents I may have differing views, nevertheless I would like to thank them once again for getting in touch.