No protests in abortion clinic 'safe access zones', rules Supreme Court

Anti-abortion protest outside an abortion clinic.

The Supreme Court has unanimously ruled that 'buffer zones' can be introduced outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland.

A clause within the Abortion Services Bill, which would make it an offence for a person to protest in a designated safe access zone, was deemed as 'compatible' with the rights of protestors.

In delivering his judgement, Lord Reed told the UK's highest court that the restrictions of the clause were 'proportionate', 'rational' and 'necessary'.

The Bill, which is designed to protect the rights of women who access abortion and sexual health services, was passed by the Northern Ireland Assembly in March 2022.

The Attorney General for Northern Ireland, Dame Brenda King, raised concerns about the clause's potential interference with the rights of anti-abortion protesters, including freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly.

However the Supreme Court ruled that the clause is 'compatible' within the Convention rights of protesters.

The legislation can now become law in Northern Ireland after it receives Royal Ascent.

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