The UK Government’s decision to reject calls for buffer zones around abortion clinics has been welcomed by pro-lifers.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid made the surprise announcement after a consultation into the measures that received over 2,500 responses.
Although there were some reports of harassment outside abortion clinics, Mr Javid said they were ‘not the norm’ and that most activities were ‘passive’, such as offering prayers and handing out leaflets.
According to the review, in 2017 anti-abortion demonstrations took place outside 36 of the 363 hospitals and clinics that perform abortions in England and Wales.
In April this year, Ealing council in London controversially introduced a ‘buffer zone’ outside a Marie Stopes clinic that stopped anti-abortion activities within 100m of the building.
Mr Javid said in a written statement: ‘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.’
Bishop John Sherrington, an auxiliary bishop in the Catholic Diocese of Westminster, welcomed the decision as one that was important for freedom of expression.
‘We agree with the Home Secretary that everyone has a right to peaceful witness,’ he said.
‘We are pleased that in a free society the government has sought a proportionate response to the problem as it was presented and trust that a balance will be found that protects both the rights of people to gather peaceably and the rights of others to be free from intimidation.’
He added, however, that it was ‘unacceptable’ for women visiting abortion clinics to be harassed or intimidated.
‘It is an unacceptable situation if any people harass or intimidate women visiting clinics, even if such situations are rare. It is clearly not the case that all action is of this nature, and the distinctions between persons and groups should be examined further,’ he said.
‘There is legislation by which those who coerce, threaten or intimidate others can be charged or prosecuted.’
Pro-life group Be Here For Me also welcomed the announcement, saying that ‘women will continue to be offered much needed help and support’.
‘This carefully considered decision represents the common sense we have been calling for all along,’ it said.