Given how difficult and stressful the decision to have an abortion is, it is vital that women are able to receive confidential medical and psychological advice and support without fear of intimidation. It is also essential that healthcare workers can do their jobs free from abuse and threats.
I believe that by introducing buffer zones, the women visiting these clinics can have access to their lawful healthcare without fear of intimidation and harassment, and health care workers can continue their work unimpeded.
Protestors would still be able to express their views, just not directly outside abortion clinics and in the faces of patients and staff. This is the case in the US, Canada and France, which have already introduced a number of measures, including buffer zones.
Councils can already introduce Safe Access Zones (SAZs), which act as buffer zones, around abortion clinics or any other area where protests could cause harm, distress or harassment. However, with SAZs, people must proactively lobby the council to enact them, which results in a postcode lottery of coverage across the country, with the unprotected areas becoming the focus of protests and harassment.
This is why my Opposition Colleagues and I supported New Clause 42 (NC42) of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, because we wanted a nationwide policy on buffer zones. However, the Government defeated the amendment and we are stuck with a patchwork of SAZs and a situation where some patients and staff are protected from abuse and threats, but some aren’t.
I can assure you that I will continue to support the introduction of a national policy on buffer zones, which prevents intimidation and harassment, but still allows protests to take place, at a safe distance.