Thank you for your email regarding proposed ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics.
As far as this particular issue is concerned, I strongly believe that this country has a proud history of free speech which we must protect and I fully support the right of the pro-life lobby to express its views. However, it’s also the case that the right to protest peacefully doesn’t extend to harassment or abusive and threatening behaviour towards individuals, as has occasionally been the case outside abortion clinics. The decision to have an abortion is already an incredibly difficult and personal one without women being further pressured or intimidated by protesters when visiting family planning clinics to seek legal healthcare advice or treatment from medical professionals.
I understand that the law already provides protection against harassment and intimidation, and that the police have a range of powers to manage protests. Like all members of the public, protesters are subject to the law and all suspected criminal offences will be robustly investigated and dealt with by the police. The aim of the recent review, which gathered evidence from police forces, healthcare providers and local authorities, was to better understand the nature of protests outside abortion clinics and the powers that might be needed if unacceptable intimidation (or similar) is indeed taking place.
That review has now closed and the Government is currently analysing the responses that it has received. I don’t intend to pre-empt its conclusions, but I presume that if the powers that the police currently have to deal with unacceptable behaviour are discovered to be sufficient, then the reviewer’s recommendations will doubtless reflect that. Please be assured that I’ll scrutinise the Government’s conclusions very closely and carefully when they’re published to ensure that the right balance is struck between the right of the pro-life lobby to express its views and that of women to access healthcare to which they’re legally entitled without undue intimidation or hostility.
In the meantime, thank you once again for taking the time to contact me.
With best wishes.