THE HOUSE OF LORDS passed an amendment to place buffer zones around all abortion clinics in England and Wales, in a debate on the Public Order Bill in the House of Lords on 30 January. The amendment slightly revised existing buffer zones provision in the Bill, to make sure it was in line with human rights law. 

Humanists UK briefed peers in the All-Party Parliamentary Humanist Group (APPHG) to support the amendment, with the help of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), and strongly welcomed the provision of buffer zones.

Buffer zones are areas around clinics where certain abortion-specific harassment such as displaying graphic signs, following and filming women, and repeatedly approaching women and doctors are not allowed. Similar legislation was passed in Northern Ireland last year, and is being considered in Scotland.

The buffer zone provisions were first added to the Bill through an amendment introduced in the House of Commons by Stella Creasy MP, and again supported by Humanists UK. The new amendment introduced by the Lords slightly revised this clause to guarantee its compliance with human rights law. It was put to a vote but this was called off after three minutes due to the overwhelming cross-party support. An amendment to remove buffer zones from the Bill was called to a vote but was resoundingly rejected by peers.

Baroness Sugg, Baroness Barker, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, and Lord Hogan-Howe put forward the cross-party amendment. Baroness Thornton spoke in support of the amendment and its compliance with human rights law.

Humanists UK Public Affairs Manager Karen Wright commented: “We are pleased to see the introduction of buffer zones around abortion clinics come one step closer. While we recognise the right to free speech, it does not overrule others’ rights to essential medical services. Buffer zones draw the line in the right place by simply moving protesters to places where it would be harder for them to harass women. We applaud parliamentarians’ hard work to protect reproductive rights in the face of rising anti-abortion protests and urge them to continue their efforts to see this reform to come to fruition.”

* Read a transcript of the debate here.

* Source: Humanists UK