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One year on from milestone Commons vote, safe access zones are still not in place

Press releases  •  18 October 2023  • 5 min read

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Joint press release by MSI Reproductive Choices, BPAS, Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare

London, 18th October 2023

A year ago today, MPs voted 297-110 to introduce safe access zones around abortion clinics. Introduced as an amendment to the Public Order Act, the Act became law in May 2023 – but safe access zones have still not been implemented.

As medical professionals and organisations which care for women in need of abortion services, we are calling on the Home Secretary to bring safe access zones into force now.

Clinic harassment

Over many years, clinics and hospitals have been targeted by anti-abortion groups who want to dissuade or deter women from accessing legal abortion care. In the five months since the law passed, fifteen clinics which serve thousands of women have been targeted by anti-abortion groups.

Behaviour has included:

  • a man protesting in the waiting room of one clinic, refusing to leave;
  • 30 people marching to a clinic and lining the pavements outside for hours, causing anxiety and distress to women inside;
  • individuals standing by a hospital housing a clinic with graphic signs of foetuses and bible verses on 20ft banner;
  • anti-abortion preachers standing opposite clinics with body cameras and a posterboard reading “babies are murdered here”; and
  • a man who regularly kneels directly outside the entrance of a clinic with his hands in the air, attempting to stop women from entering.

The law

The law as written provides for the introduction of safe access zones around every abortion clinic in England and Wales. They would ban any activity in the 150 metres around an abortion clinic which intimidates, causes harassment, alarm, or distress, or seeks to influence women or medical professionals visiting or providing abortion services.

Although safe access zones were passed into law on 2nd May 2023, the Home Secretary has not yet commenced this section of the Act. Commencement requires the Home Secretary to issue a Statutory Instrument with a date on which the provisions come into force. Until the section is commenced by the Home Secretary, safe access zones are not in force.

Our ask

The decision to protect women accessing and medical professionals providing abortion care has been made in parliament. There is no justification for the Government to refuse to implement the law MPs voted for.

We are calling on the Home Secretary to protect women and bring safe access zones into force now.

Rachael Clarke, Chief of Staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, said:

“The point of a free vote in Parliament on abortion is that decisions are made by individual MPs’ consciences, not by Government picking and choosing what they want to do with these essential laws. This law was supported overwhelmingly with a majority of MPs from all major parties agreeing. There is simply no justification for the complete silence from the Home Secretary.

“Women were in need of protection this time last year, and they are in even more desperate need now. The only way to protect them is to bring safe access zones into force as soon as possible.”

Dr Ranee Thakar, President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, said:

“Women have the right to access essential healthcare without fear of intimidation or harassment. Safe access zones must be brought into force now, to stop anti-choice organisations imposing stigma, guilt and shame on those accessing and providing abortion care services. This would not be tolerated for any other area of healthcare.” 

Dr Tracey Masters, Abortion Care Expert for the Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare, said:

“One year ago, MPs voted to implement safe access zones around facilities providing abortion care to stop the unacceptable harassment of patients and staff.

“In a recent YouGov poll, the British public voted overwhelmingly in favour of the implementation of safe access zones, with three quarters of the Britons supported banning people from protesting outside abortion clinics.

“Abortion care is an essential part of healthcare, which everyone should be able to access free from intimidation and harassment. In addition, all healthcare workers should be able to access their place of work free of judgement or fear. 

“The only way to ensure patients are able to access healthcare free of harassment and intimidation is the legal implementation of buffer zones around abortion clinics across the UK.

“We call on the Home Office to bring safe access zones into force immediately.”

Louise McCudden, Head of External Affairs, MSI Reproductive Choices UK, said:

“Safe access zones protect women and frontline healthcare workers from harassment, which has in the past included spitting, calling women murderers, and threatening to take photographs. People are fed up with seeing these behaviours in their communities, so it’s no surprise to us that recent YouGov polling found 77% of Brits back safe access zones. Parliament voted across all major parties in support of these zones, and the policy has now been signed into law. We urge the Home Office to get on with implementing this legislation so women can access abortion care confidentially and with dignity, no matter where in the country they happen to live.”

Ends

For further information, please contact:

Name: Kylie Harrison and Grace Dunne

Email: press@msichoices.org 

Telephone: 07769 166 516


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