A Labour MP has withdrawn an amendment to a controversial Bill on protesting that sought to introduce censorship zones around abortion clinics nationwide.
Dr Rupa Huq’s amendment sought to criminalise offers of prayer, assistance and counselling to women visiting abortion clinics across England and Wales.
The amendment proposed a prison sentence of up to two years for breaches of the law.
It has been withdrawn from the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill at committee stage, but campaign group Right to Life UK fears that the amendment will be tabled again when the Bill reaches the Commons for debate.
Commenting during the committee meeting, safeguarding minister Victoria Atkins said that the “Government has to have a proportionate response” because it is aware of current or recent protests at only 35 out of 142 abortion clinics and five hospitals.
“This is why we are concerned that a blanket ban across all of the service providers may not be proportionate given that the majority of clinics and the overwhelming majority of hospitals that provide these services do not appear thus far to be affected by protest,” she said.
But she added that Public Space Protection Orders, which have been used to shut down prayer vigils outside some abortion clinics already, were “the way forward”.
Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, said it was “great news” that Huq’s amendment has been withdrawn for the timebeing.
“It is worded in such a way that it risks criminalising all forms of peaceful demonstration and offering of transparent advice on abortion by medical professionals themselves inside and within 150 metres of all abortion clinics,” she said.
“Existing laws already provide protections to prevent harassment if it is occurring. All this Bill would do is infringe upon the public’s right to assembly and speech.”