Back Off

We won! - MPs have passed legislation that will stop anti-abortion harassment outside clinics. We expect that buffer zones will become law in England and Wales at the beginning of 2023.

The Campaign

For many years anti-abortion groups have gathered outside abortion clinics to harass and intimidate women, with the aim of stopping women from getting an abortion. These groups display images of dismembered foetuses, hand out leaflets containing false medical information and film women entering clinics.

Encounters with these groups leave women feeling intimidated, distressed and, in some cases, too scared to get to their appointment.

Despite mounting evidence that the intimidation of women outside abortion clinics was growing, the government maintained that existing powers were sufficient to stop this kind of harassment – we knew that just wasn’t the case and that a national solution was desperately needed.

That’s why we kept pushing for new legislation to introduce buffer zones around clinics. A buffer zone would mean that certain activities could not take place within 150 meters of abortion clinics – effectively ending the harassment of women outside clinics.

Which clinics were targeted?

This map details anti-abortion activity reported outside clinics in the UK from 2018 onwards. 50 clinics and hospitals in England and Wales were targeted by these groups over the course of just under 4 years.

The Win

On Tuesday 18th October 2022 MPs voted to introduce buffer zones around all abortion clinics in England and Wales, by passing amendment NC11 to the Public Order Bill.

Amendment NC11 creates areas around abortion clinics and hospitals where the intimidation or harassment of women accessing abortion services will be an offence. A person found guilty of an offence under this new clause will be liable to a fine or imprisonment.

MPs were given a “free vote” which means they could vote based on how they felt about the issue, rather than with their party leadership. In the end 297 MPs voted to pass the amendment, whilst 110 MPs voted against the amendment. It means the amendment passed with a huge 187 majority.

It was a brilliant victory and MPs from both parties spoke passionately about the need to protect women accessing abortion care from harassment.

The Public Order Bill now moves onto the House of Lords, where Lords will have a chance to debate it, it will then return to the House of Commons to become law. We expect that buffer zones will be in law around England and Wales at the beginning of 2023.

Thank you to all the organisations, MPs and individuals who have supported this campaign – we couldn’t have done it without you.

Ways to get involved

1. Share your experience: It will take time for Buffer Zones to be implemented, until then we expect that there will still be groups present outside some clinics and we’re still keen to hear the experiences of those who encounter them. If you have encountered harassment outside an abortion clinic and you’d like to tell us about it, please click here and fill in our quick online form. There’s no need to include your name or contact details if you don’t want to.

2. Stay up to date: For those who would like to – you can sign up to our mailing list to stay up to date with our work and get involved with our other campaigns.

3.Set up a donation: We are a small campaigns team, with limited resources and we rely on the generosity of our supporters to help fund our efforts to protect and extend abortion rights.  We know times are challenging for many people but, if you can, please consider a monthly donation so we can keep winning campaigns to protect abortion rights across the UK.

Supporters of buffer zones

Alliance for Choice
Antenatal Results & Choices
Aurora New Dawn
Birthrights
British Medical Association
Brook
Doctors for Choice UK
End Violence Against Women Coalition
Everyday Victim Blaming
Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Health
FIAPAC (International Federation of Abortion and Contraception Professionals)
Forward UK
Green Party Women
Humanist Society Scotland
Humanists UK
Imkaan
Karma Nirvana
Marie Stopes International
Medical Women’s Federation

Mumsnet
NUPAS
Positively UK
Race Equality Foundation
Rape Crisis England & Wales
Reclaim Rosslyn Road
Reproductive Health Matters
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
Royal College of Midwives
Scottish Women’s Aid
Sexpression
Sister Supporter
Sister Supporter Manchester
Stop Street Harassment
The Fatherhood Institute
Unison
University and College Union (UCU)
The Vagina Museum
Women’s Aid
Women’s Resource Centre

“They were hurling abuse as I came out of the clinic, saying I’m a disgrace, that I’m a horrible person and what I’m doing is an abomination.”

– Client, December 2021

“She watched me driving around and looking for a space, then approached me and was saying ‘do not kill your baby’ and something about god. It made me feel emotional and scared. I was already worried and unprepared to be approached. I was crying and it affected my mental health. I was scared to go in.”

– Client, October 2021

“She told me that I should let God decide – that it will torture me for the rest of my life and don’t let them do it. She told me her daughter couldn’t have kids and I’m wrong for killing a baby”

– Client, February 2021

“The young client had been so upset and distressed that she ran back over towards her Mum’s car… Her Mum walked her back over and the girl pulled her hoodie all around her head and face to hide away and was crying hysterically and visibly shaken… The client in question didn’t have her surgical treatment as planned that day, she was too distressed.”

– Clinic staff, Taunton, February 2020