Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq has today said she is “delighted” by the decision of MPs to back proposals to enforce buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales.
Huq, who has long campaigned for buffer zones to be introduced outside abortion clinics to protect service users from intimidation and harassment like the one enforced outside the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane since 2018, was among the 297 MPs to vote in favour of the NC11 amendment to the Government’s Public Order Bill, with 110 MPs voting against.
Under the proposed law, harassing, obstructing or interfering with any woman attending an abortion clinic will become a criminal offence. Protesters found guilty of breaching the buffer zones – which would extend 150 metres from the clinics – could face up to six months in jail.
Huq told us, ““I am delighted to say that this amendment passed this week with MPs voting for it by a considerable margin. For me, this was an emotional moment as I have for many years campaigned on this issue which has been close to my heart as a very “Ealing” issue, having witnessed the protestors at Mattock Lane for decades who impeded use of the public pavement.
“The new clause was actually in my name. It ended up being spoken on by other MPs as I was elsewhere in the House of Commons at the time, but it was and is something I passionately believe in.
“If you strip away the controversial subject of abortion from the equation, which many people have long held and sincere views on, this measure protects women in their attempt to use legally available healthcare facilities free from interference. I’ve spoken countless times on this issue in Parliament and across the media. I’m grateful to my colleagues for backing this legislation.”
Anti-abortion protests outside clinics in recent years have included displaying graphic images of foetuses, filming women and staff members and large gatherings singing hymns.
Some protesters have hung baby clothes around clinic entrances and called women “murderers” as they enter clinics, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said.
Huq added, “I was delighted by the result of the vote that was genuinely cross party, with Conservative Bernard Jenkin MP and Labour’s Stella Creasy MP speaking passionately for the new clause (and praising my past work on it see Public Order Bill – Hansard – UK Parliament and Public Order Bill – Hansard – UK Parliament ). Even ex-Prime Minister Theresa May MP was among those voting for it.
“Many MPs came up to hug and congratulate me yesterday in the aftermath of the vote for all my work on this subject. The Public Order Bill will now to go to the House of Lords for improvement. What began in Ealing now leads the nation and both freedom of speech and the freedom of women to undertake medical procedures in anonymity with the confidentiality of being shamed at the clinic gates is ensured up and down the country.”
The Bill still has several stages to clear before becoming law, including scrutiny in the House of Lords.
BPAS chief executive Clare Murphy said, “Every year, around 100,000 women are treated by a clinic or hospital for an abortion that is targeted by anti-abortion protests.
“These groups attempt to deter or prevent women from accessing abortion care by displaying graphic images of foetuses, calling women ‘murderers’, and hanging baby clothing around clinic entrances, causing women significant distress. Today’s vote will bring an end to this activity.”
Ealing council in west London established the country’s first buffer zone, around the Marie Stopes clinic on Mattock Lane in 2018. Other councils have subsequently proposed similar schemes.