MPs vote to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales

A general view of the House of Commons. Credit: PA

MPs have supported proposals to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics and hospitals in England and Wales.

The House of Commons voted 297 to 110, a majority of 187, in favour of an amendment to the Public Order Bill in a bid to offer greater protection to women by preventing protesters from gathering around abortion clinics.

Those convicted could face up to six months in jail for a first offence or two years for further offences.

The bill was originally designed to target protests that can disrupt public life - such as those carried out by groups like Just Stop Oil. Credit: PA

A buffer zone would apply to an area which is within 150 metres from any part of an abortion clinic or access point to any building or site that contains an abortion clinic.

MPs were given a free vote on the matter.

Labour's Stella Creasy, who moved the amendment, earlier said the change would “not stop free speech on abortion”.

She told the Commons: “It simply says that you shouldn’t have a right to do that in the face of somebody – and very often these people are right up in front of people – at a point when they have made a decision.”

Stella Creasy moved the bill in the Commons Credit: PA

Ms Creasy added that 50 clinics have been targeted by protesters but only five have managed to get public spaces protection orders, designed to prevent specified things being done in a restricted area.

But Conservative MP Fiona Bruce disagreed, saying the buffer zone proposal has “grave implications, indeed threats, to freedom of thought, conscience, speech, belief and assembly”.

She said: “It has implications far more widely than on abortion alone. It potentially criminalises even those who simply peaceably stand near abortion clinics and who do so mainly on the basis of their faith-based beliefs.”

Although she acknowledged harassment and intimidation around abortion clinics “has to be addressed”, she said there are existing laws and “there have been relatively few if any reports of this”.

The Bill as a whole attempts to crack down on protests seen as disruptive.

It includes a new offence of obstructing major transport networks, interfering with key national infrastructure – such as railways, roads and printing presses – and new powers for police to stop and search people to seize items intended for so-called locking-on.

Lock-on tactics have been repeatedly employed by groups such as Insulate Britain and Just Stop Oil, and include protesters gluing or otherwise attaching themselves to roads or other areas to cause disruption.

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