The British government has resisted pressure to introduce a nationwide ban on pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics.
Home Secretary Sajid Javid said that legislation already exists to “restrict protest activities that cause harm to others”, including the 1986 Public Order Act. This act, he pointed out, already gives police the power to stop protests that could cause “serious public disorder” or intimidate others.
Javid had been under pressure from pro-abortion MPs and lobbyists to impose so-called “buffer zones” around abortion clinics across the country following claims pro-lifers were harassing women – claims pro-life campaigners strongly deny.
The London borough of Ealing has already banned vigils outside a clinic, while other local authorities are considering similar measures.
Javid’s predecessor as Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, launched a review earlier this year to consider whether a ban should be extended to every abortion clinic in England and Wales.
However, Javid said on Thursday that introducing national buffer zones would “not be a proportionate response” to claims of harassment.
The Home Secretary added that while the review received allegations of behaviour that could constitute harassment, “what is clear from the evidence we gathered is that these activities are not the norm, and predominantly, anti-abortion activities are more passive in nature.”
“The main activities reported to us that take place during protests include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets. There were relatively few reports of the more aggressive activities described above,” Javid added.
Campaign group Be Here For Me, which consists of mothers opposed to buffer zones, welcomed the decision.
“This carefully considered decision represents the common sense we have been calling for all along,” spokeswoman Elizabeth Howard said.
“It demonstrates Sajid Javid’s commitment to fundamental civil liberties as well as ensuring that women will continue to be offered much needed help and support. It will mean that people offering this vital support will not be criminalised.”