A lot of constituents have contacted me recently regarding protests outside abortion clinics and the related ‘Back Off’ Campaign from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
This is an extremely sensitive and emotive issue that engenders passionate views on both sides. I think it’s important that anyone considering an abortion receives impartial, non-directive and clinical information on pregnancy in order to make an informed choice.
Given how difficult and stressful this decision is, it is vital that women are able to access confidential medical and psychological advice and support without fear of harassment or intimidation and I share the concerns about reports of an increase in the number of protests outside abortion clinics, with some positioning themselves directly outside clinics and blocking entrances.
It is important, of course, that people are able to protest peacefully and to express their views. However, I appreciate that the British Pregnancy Advisory Services’ ‘Back Off’ campaign has highlighted the fact that these protests can intimidate both women considering an abortion or receiving other reproductive healthcare and the staff at these clinics. Indeed, the BPAS reports that protests have been distressing enough for staff, at one clinic, to ask for the abortion service to be closed.
The Government should now look to what further action can be taken to ensure that women can attend sensitive health care appointments and that health care workers can do their jobs without fear of harassment or abuse toward patients and staff.
In particular, the Government should consider the experience of other countries and consult with health service providers, patients and the police about the potential for operating ‘buffer zones’ around clinics. As you may know, in the US, Canada and France, a number of measures – including buffer zones – have been introduced to stop anti-abortion protests happening directly outside clinics and prevent protestors approaching patients or staff. None of these measures prevent anti-abortion protests, they just restrict the distance from clinics that protests can be held, to ensure women accessing healthcare are protected from being harassed or intimidated.
I hope the Government will now carefully consider introducing buffer zones here and bear in mind the concerns raised by the ‘Back Off’ campaign.
MP for Leeds Central