Government says abortion clinic buffer zones are incompatible with human rights law

(Photo: Unsplash)

Buffer zones that prevent pro-lifers from offering help outside abortion clinics are incompatible with human rights law, the government has said.

The statement from the government was issued after an amendment was added to the Public Order Bill by MPs last week that imposes censorship zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales.

Clause 9 was approved by 297 votes in favour to 110 against. It will stop pro-lifers from praying outside abortion clinics and offering help and information to women about alternatives to abortion.

In a statement on behalf of the government, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State Lord Sharpe of Epsom said that Clause 9 was not compatible with the European Convention on Human Rights.

"Section 19(1) of the Human Rights Act provides a mechanism to notify Parliamentarians if a statement cannot be made that a clause is compatible with the ECHR, but this does not fetter the right of Parliament to legislate in such a way, should it wish," he said.

"I am unable, but only because of clause 9, to make a statement that, in my view, the provisions of the Bill are presently compatible with Convention rights but the Government nevertheless wishes to proceed with the Bill."

He added, "I am sure this House will naturally wish to debate and scrutinise this amendment further."

Right to Life UK said it was likely that the clause will now be redrafted to ensure that it is compatible with human rights law.

Spokesperson for the pro-life group, Catherine Robinson, said that Clause 9 should be removed from the legislation altogether.

"The clause should be thrown out and not simply redrafted," she said.

"Censorship zones are direct viewpoint discrimination which deny women in need an alternative to abortion.

"As has been pointed out many times, there are laws in place to prevent harassment and intimidation and these should be enforced if and when necessary.

"There is no need for further draconian legislation."