Abortion providers celebrate 'safety' of buffer zones as law finally set to come in

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) this week celebrated the conclusion of a 14-year campaign.

Legislation to introduce 150m buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales will finally become law after it receives Royal Assent.

It bans intimidation and harassment of (as well as communication with) people accessing clinics. A person found guilty will be liable to a fine or imprisonment.

This is what it means to the staff who provide these services.

"Safety. It means that protesters and people who don't necessarily agree with us and our clients, that they can't stand outside and intimidate," says Mel Milloy, Treatment Unit Manager at BPAS Merseyside.

Some groups have argued silent prayer should be allowed outside clinics. Credit: PA

The legislation had its final reading in the House of Commons on 7 March, two weeks in to a two month period of action being held by anti-abortion group 40 Days for Life.

One of the amendments (backed by Home Secretary Suella Braverman) called for silent prayer and consensual communication to be exempt from the ban - it was voted down by MPs and is a decision staff at BPAS are thankful for.

"They block the pavement, they pray loudly, and in some ways it's more intimidating because it's done loudly enough but quietly enough that you're not disturbing anybody except for who's walking in," Ms Milloy says.

While some individual councils have introduced buffer zones (Ealing, Richmond Manchester City, Bournemouth, and Birmingham among them) this will be the first nationwide ban.

It is, however, only England and Wales covered in the legislation due to the breakdown of devolved powers.

Northern Ireland brought in a bill introducing safe access zones in 2022, though critics point out that access to abortion remains limited despite decriminalisation four years ago.

Last year Nicola Sturgeon committed to supporting the introduction of legislation bringing in safe access zones, but legislation is yet to come into force and could now be further delayed while a new First Minister is appointed.

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