The Labour MP Rupa Huq wants to see “buffer zones” introduced around family planning clinics, to prevent anti-choice protesters intimidating women seeking abortions.
Huq, the MP for Ealing Central and Acton in west London, said that she plans to table an amendment to new domestic violence legislation, meaning protests cannot be staged outside abortion clinics.
Speaking at a Labour conference fringe event, Huq said that there had long been a problem with protesters “weaponising rosary beads” outside a clinic in her constituency – a reference to the Catholic belief that life begins at conception.
“We have a Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing and for as long as I can remember, there has been a constant phoney vigil outside the clinic, with people stopping women going into the clinic to access services,” said Huq, according to HuffPost.
She said that pro-choice activists have started organising counter protests, called “Sister Support”, outside the clinic. “Now there is a kind of stand-off on the pavement,” she said.
Huq, the sister of TV presenter Konnie, wants to table an amendment to the new domestic violence bill “to create a safe zone around these clinics, because the pavement should be a safe space.
“Nobody should feel uncomfortable accessing services or going about their daily routines,” she said.
The domestic violence bill was announced in the Queen’s Speech in June, although it has not yet been passed. Under the new legislation, domestic violence offences committed by British citizens anywhere in the world will be able to be prosecuted in British courts.
Courts will also be able to sentence perpetrators of domestic violence more harshly if their behaviour has had a negative impact on a child.
Huq said she was working with the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) to draft the amendment.
In 2015, a major study revealed that 50% of abortion clinics in England and Wales regularly had anti-choice protests outside. These direct, aggressive tactics appear to have been inspired by anti-abortion activists in the US, who hold placards with graphic imagery and are known to shout verbal abuse at women entering the clinics.
Women going for abortions told researchers that they had been reduced to tears and panic attacks by the protesters.
However, many anti-abortion groups insist that they are simply trying to educate women and persuade them to change their minds, not intimidate them.
Images: Rex Features