Sajid Javid rejects call for 'buffer zones' to shield women from abortion protests
Home Secretary Sajid Javid has sparked anger after rejecting calls to set up protest-free “buffer zones” to stop women who visit abortion clinics from being harassed.
Mr Javid’s predecessor Amber Rudd launched a review into whether more needed to be done to shield women from anti-abortion activists, saying it was “completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment”.
But the Home Secretary sparked the anger of those pushing for greater protection on Wednesday when he batted away calls for demo-free zones to be imposed around clinics. Labour warned that the move would give the “green light for women to be harassed and abused”.
In a statement announcing the review's findings, Mr Javid that while there were “upsetting examples of harassment” outside clinics, there had been “relatively few” reports of “more aggressive” behaviour such as blocking women from entering clinics or bombarding them with graphic images or model foetuses.
He said: “Through the review, we also found that anti-abortion demonstrations take place outside a small number of abortion facilities. In 2017, there were 363 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales that carried out abortions. Through the review, we found that 36 hospitals and clinics have experienced anti-abortion demonstrations.
“Having considered the evidence of the review, I have therefore reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature.”
ABBOTT: DISGUSTING FAILURE
But Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott tore into the decision, and urged the Home Office to think again.
The Labour frontbencher fumed: "The Home Secretary has given the green light for women to be harassed and abused for exercising their right to choose.
"This is a disgusting failure to uphold women's rights over their own bodies. Sajid Javid must urgently reconsider."
The move also drew criticism from the Marie Stopes chain of abortion clinics, which recently saw a 100 metre buffer zone banning either pro or anti-abortion campaigners - set up around its Ealing branch following action from councillors.
Managing director Richard Bentley said: "Asking councils to use Public Space Protection Orders to manage harassment on a clinic by clinic basis is a step forward, but it can only ever be a sticking plaster.
"PSPOs are not permanent measures and risk creating a postcode lottery in which some women are protected from harassment while others aren’t. This clearly isn’t right.
"We don’t believe anyone should face harassment when accessing a legal, confidential health service and we would strongly urge the Home Office to think again to ensure all women accessing abortion services have consistent protection."
Justifying the decision, Mr Javid said public order laws were already in place to clamp-down on the most disruptive protests and said Britain had “a long-standing tradition that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views”.
He added: “This is something to be rightly proud of. However, it is vital that how views are demonstrated is carried out within the law, and never more so than on such an issue that can have such a personal impact on individuals.
"This Government is absolutely clear that no-one should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to pregnancy advice and abortion services, and I am adamant that where a crime is committed, the police have the powers to act so that people feel protected."