Campaigners have deemed the move “a huge victory for reproductive rights”.     

MPs have backed proposals to enforce buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales in a move that campaigners have deemed a “huge victory” for reproductive rights.

Under the proposed law, harassing, obstructing or interfering with anyone attending an abortion clinic would become a criminal offence, with protestors found guilty of breaching the 150-metre buffer zone around a clinic potentially facing up to six months in jail.

The rules, put forward by Labour MP Stella Creasy, will be added as an amendment to the government’s public order bill, which is now due to have its third reading. 

Theresa May, the former prime minister, and Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the commons, were among those backing the buffer zones, while home secretary Suella Braverman and her fellow cabinet ministers Jacob Rees-Mogg and Kemi Badenoch voted against it.

Speaking in parliament, Creasy said buffer zones are not designed to “stop free speech”; instead, they’re there to protect people accessing “a very specific kind” of healthcare.

“It does not stop people protesting,” she said. “It simply says you shouldn’t have the right to do this in the face of somebody – and very often these people are right up in front of people.” 

Every year, around 100,000 women are treated by a clinic or hospital for an abortion that is targeted by protests. The kinds of activity that has taken place outside abortion clinics over the last couple of years have included activists holding up graphic images of foetuses and calling those getting abortions “murderers”, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) said.

The proposed buffer zones will stretch 150m around abortion clinics in England and Wales.

In a statement, Clare Murphy, chief executive of BPAS, which is the UK’s leading abortion provider, said: “We are delighted that today MPs have voted to protect women, protect healthcare staff and establish buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales.”

She continued: “Today’s vote will bring an end to this activity. This was truly a cross-party amendment, with support from across the House. We thank all those who have campaigned alongside us and all those MPs who voted in favour today.” 

Louise McCudden, UK advocacy and public affairs advisor at MSI Reproductive Choices, also responded to the news, calling it a “huge victory for reproductive rights”.

“For decades, our teams around the country have been forced to witness the cruel tactics of anti-abortion groups who have had a free pass to harass people attending our clinics, invade their space and attempt to block their right to healthcare,” she said.

“This landmark decision marks the culmination of years of inspirational campaigning by groups across the country and we are incredibly grateful to all the MPs who supported this amendment.

“At long last, everyone will have the right to access vital reproductive healthcare with safety, dignity and privacy, no matter where in the country they happen to live.”

The public order bill will now progress to its third reading in the House of Commons before it is passed on to the House Of Lords. 

Images: Getty

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