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Tell the government what you think about abortion clinic Safe Access Zones

Advocacy  •  11 January 2024  • 5 min read

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In recent years, MSI Reproductive Choices joined partners in advocating for Safe Access Zones to be introduced outside abortion clinics across England and Wales. Back in May, we were delighted to celebrate success as Safe Access Zones were officially signed into law, following cross party support in both House of Parliament.

Safe Access Zones protect abortion clinics from harassment outside. The behaviours we have seen include calling women “murderers,” filming or taking photographs, handing out leaflets with false medical claims, and calling out “mummy” to women leaving the clinic.

(To find out more about why Safe Access Zones are so important, read our blog here.)

Yet despite the support of Parliamentarians across all major parties in both Houses, and 77% of the British public, Safe Access Zones have still not been ‘commenced’ by the Home Office. After six months with no update on the timeline, the government eventually announced, in response to a question from Baroness Deech in the House of Lords, that there would be a public consultation on the implementation, with the aim of having the zones in place by spring.

The consultation

The consultation is not asking whether Safe Access Zones should be introduced. The will of Parliament is clear on this point; Safe Access Zones have been passed and signed into law. The Home Office has confirmed that they expect to be in place by spring.

The Home Office has drafted proposed guidance around how the law should be implemented and enforced, and this guidance has been put out for public consultation.

Our view on the proposed guidance

While we’re pleased that the government is finally bringing this critical legislation into force, we are concerned about the guidance, which appears to undermine the intention of Parliament and is likely to cause confusion about what the legislation says.

For example, the guidance suggests that abortion providers take responsibility, working with local authorities, for putting up signage to indicate that a Safe Access Zone is in place. This is impractical, a threat to client confidentiality, and would continue the ‘postcode lottery’ which the legislation was partly designed to address. The guidance also suggests that unsolicited interactions with those accessing abortion care can sometimes be “consensual” and may not always be intended to influence. This is at odds with reality. People who are harassed outside abortion clinics (usually women) often tell us they don’t want to make formal reports or escalate the situation by objecting to the behaviour in the moment. The legislation was deemed necessary by our elected parliamentarians in part because it was understood that women shouldn’t have to navigate harassment in order to access healthcare confidentially and safely.

That’s why we need your help. If you agree that nobody should face harassment while accessing healthcare, please tell the Home Office why you feel this guidance does not reflect the legislation passed by Parliament. You don’t need to answer every question or give a detailed response.

The consultation will run until 22 January 2024. It’s open to all members of the public as well as formal stakeholders like abortion providers. You can respond to the online survey, by email (sazconsultationinbox@homeoffice.gov.uk) or by post SAZ Consultation Police Powers Unit 6th Floor, Fry Building, 2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF. 

Your experiences are evidence

You don’t need to be a technical expert, clinician, or lawyer to respond. Your own experiences and views as a member of the public are critical evidence in this consultation. That’s especially true of those who have experienced abortion clinic harassment directly, but as a member of the public, any comment you wish to share is relevant.

You may wish to highlight the ways in which your experiences are relevant. For example, you may want to share that you have had an abortion yourself, that as a resident living near a clinic you witness anti-choice groups in your community, or that someone you know has experienced the anti-choice behaviours or accessed abortion care. You may have experiences to share about why you would not feel safe reporting or addressing gender-based harassment in real time. You may have an opinion to share about how you would feel accessing abortion care from a clinic with a prominent sign drawing attention to the nature of its services.

Why do your views matter?

Abortion is viewed as a more controversial issue than it is. In reality, 90% of British people describe themselves as pro-choice and 77% support Safe Access Zones. Even some people who are not natural supporters of abortion rights strongly agree that harassment of those accessing abortion services, particularly when women and girls are targeted, is fundamentally wrong.

However, the anti-choice groups, while a small minority in this country, are well-funded and highly coordinated. There is a risk that the government will decide to water down the legislation by adding impractical caveats and loopholes which allow anti-choice groups to continue harassing our clients.

To show your support for Safe Access Zones and make sure they are fully implemented as our elected representatives in Parliament intended, share your views with the government by 22 January 2024.

  • View our guide to responding here.
  • View MSI Reproductive Choices UK’s consultation response here.

This guide and response was developed in collaboration with women’s rights lawyer Polly Jackman.

  • Respond to the consultation here.
  • Read the original legislation here.

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