This evening, safe access zones around abortion clinics have passed their final parliamentary hurdle and are set to become law.
MPs rejected a cynical last ditch attempt by anti-choice Members of Parliament to hollow out the legislation and leave women exposed to harassment at the clinic gate. Instead, they chose to support a comprehensive ban on any activity within a 150 metres of a clinic which could influence, impede or obstruct, or cause harassment, alarm, or distress to anybody accessing, providing, or facilitating the provision of abortion care. These new zones apply to every clinic and hospital providing abortion care in England and Wales and carry an unlimited fine and a criminal record for anybody breaching them.
This is a huge victory for campaigners, who have worked as part of the BPAS-led Back Off coalition for nearly a decade to put an end to this kind of harassment. The new law was supported by a range of respected organisations including the Royal College of Midwives, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, the Royal College of General Practitioners, Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis England & Wales, Karma Nirvana, and the Fawcett Society. It was championed in parliament by a cross-party coalition including Stella Creasy MP, Victoria Atkins MP, Baroness Sugg, Bernard Jenkin MP, Baroness Barker, Lord Hogan-Howe and Rupa Huq MP.
Rachael Clarke, Chief of Staff at BPAS, said:
“We are delighted with the result in Parliament this evening, which will have a huge impact on the thousands of women who come to us every year for healthcare and who are subjected to the most unacceptable harassment at a time they should feel safe.
“Since 2014, we have seen a spread of this type of harassment across the country. The groups learn their methods from the US, and despite being told repeatedly about the impact on women, have refused to do anything about it. It is unfortunate that we have had to seek new law to address what should be a matter of basic human decency – but let it be a lesson that we will not allow the women who need us to become a hostage of groups who want to remove their rights.
“As part of our work, BPAS has maintained a database of 3000 accounts from women and their friends and family reporting on harassment outside abortion clinics. We look forward to a time in the near future when there are no more of these experiences to add to the list.”
Figures show that every year in England and Wales more than 100,000 women are treated by clinics that have been targeted by anti-abortion groups.
The activity takes many forms, including the display of graphic images of foetuses, large marches that gather and congregate outside the clinic, filming women and staff members, following women down the street, sprinkling sites with holy water, and handing out leaflet which routinely contain false medical information such as that abortion causes breast cancer, leads to suicidal ideation, and can lead to child abuse, as well as advertisements for dangerous and unproven medication to ‘reverse’ an abortion.
Safe Access Zones form part of the Public Order Bill which is undergoing its final stages in Parliament. We expect that, once passed, the Act, along with Safe Access Zones, will come into force in the coming months.
For further information, please contact Rachael Clarke, BPAS Chief of Staff, on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07985 351751.
The new law is listed as amendment 5 here – https://publications.parliament.uk/pa/bills/cbill/58-03/0253/220253.pdf
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service, BPAS, is a charity that sees over 100,000 women a year for reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception at clinics across Great Britain.
BPAS exists to further women’s reproductive choices. We believe all women should have the right to make their own decisions in and around pregnancy, from the contraception they use to avoid pregnancy right the way through to how they decide to feed their newborn baby, with access to evidence-based information to underpin their choices and high-quality services and support to exercise them.
BPAS also runs the Centre for Reproductive Research and Communication, CRRC. Through rigorous multidisciplinary research and impactful communication, the CRRC aims to inform policy, practice, and public discourse. You can find out more here.