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No nation-wide ban on buffer zones

27 Nov 2018

Home Secretary Sajid Javid announced on 13th September that the government would not be introducing Nationwide ‘buffer zones’ outside abortion centres saying that a ban would “not be a proportionate response”, given that nearly all pro- life activities in such areas involve “praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets”. (As quoted by Christian Institute)

Last year, concerns were raised by former Home Secretary Amber Rudd regarding some of the protest activities taking place outside abortion clinics in England and Wales. In response to this, she ordered an in- depth assessment to understand the scale and nature of the protests and to establish if more needs to be done to protect those wishing to access an abortion. The Home Office published a call for evidence in January this year and received over 2,500 responses.

In a parliamentary statement Javid stated among other things: 

"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. For example, under the Public Order Act 1986, it is an offence to display images or words that may cause harassment, alarm or distress. This Act also gives the police powers to impose conditions on a static demonstration if they believe it may result in serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community or if the purpose of the assembly is to intimidate others. There are also offences under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 when someone pursues a course of conduct which they know will amount to the harassment of another person. Civil legislation also exists and can be used to restrict harmful protest activities. We have seen evidence that such legislation has been effective. Ealing Council recently introduced a Public Spaces Protection Order under the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to restrict anti- abortion demonstrations. The Government will publish information on the current legal remedies that are available in tackling intimidation and harassment. 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. This Government is absolutely clear that no- one should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to pregnancy advice and abortion services, and I am adamant that where a crime is committed, the police have the powers to act so that people feel protected". (As quoted by parliament.uk)

Be Here For Me campaign spokeswoman Elizabeth Howard welcomed the decision saying “This carefully considered decision represents the common sense we have been calling for all along. It demonstrates Sajid Javid’s commitment to fundamental civil liberties as well as ensuring that women will continue to be offered much needed help and support. It will mean that people offering this vital support will not be criminalised. Sajid Javid has made it clear that there are a wide range of existing powers available to local authorities and the police to deal with anyone that does harass or intimidate someone outside an abortion centre. He recognised that taking action on a national level would be a disproportionate violation of citizens fundamental rights.This is a victory for the 100s of women who have received practical help and support outside abortion centres across the country, and for all the women who will not have this vital support option removed from them when they are in need in the future.” (As quoted by Be here For Me)

https://www.christian.org.uk/news/govt- rejects- national- buffer- zones- around- abortion- centres/

https://behereforme.org/press- release- mothers- welcome- home- office- abortion- buffer- zone- decision/

https://www.spuc.org.uk/news/news- stories/2018/september/victory- home- secretary- rejects- buffer- zone- demands