I am aware of a number of recent protests outside some abortion clinics, and welcomed the review of such protests following concerns about the tactics of some protesters. This country has a proud history of allowing free speech but the right to peaceful protest does not extend to harassment or threatening behaviour. The law already provides protection against harassment and intimidation, and the police have a range of powers to manage protests. Like all members of the public, protesters are subject to the law and all suspected criminal offences will be robustly investigated and dealt with by the police.
It is the case that some women have been subjected to harassment and intimidating behaviour from protesters when visiting family planning clinics to seek information, advice and services from medical professionals. I do not want to see peaceful protest curbed, but it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment. The decision to have an abortion is already an incredibly personal one, without women being further pressured by aggressive protesters.
I understand that the review revealed that anti-abortion demonstrations take place outside a small number of facilities. In 2017, 363 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales carried out abortions and of those, 36 hospitals and clinics experienced anti-abortion demonstrations. I therefore support the Government’s assessment that introducing national buffer zones would not be an appropriate response given the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics.
I welcome the fact that the Home Secretary has been clear that he will keep this matter under review.