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Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2494

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Catholic Church welcomes Home Office decision against buffer zones around abortion clinics

The Catholic Church has welcomed a government decision not to impose buffer zones around abortion clinics throughout England.

The Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, said a national policy of buffer zones would not be a “proportionate response” to claims of harassment by people praying and handing out leaflets outside clinics.

Auxiliary Bishop John Sherrington of Westminster (pictured) said Mr Javid’s statement, which came at the end of a Home Office review, had found a balance between “the rights of people to gather peaceably and the rights of others to be free from intimidation”.

He said: “We recognise that there are members of the public, often associated with churches, who gather peacefully to pray outside abortion clinics and witness to the good of human life in a dignified way.

“It is an unacceptable situation if any people harass or intimidate women visiting clinics, even if such situations are rare.

“It is clearly not the case that all action is of this nature, and the distinctions between persons and groups should be examined further.”

He said that Mr Javid was right say that any problems could be addressed by existing laws against the harassment, and added: “We agree with the Home Secretary that everyone has a right to peaceful witness.”

Mr Javid had told the House of Commons that some women had complained about their paths being blocked by pro-life activists, that they had been followed and shown graphic images of aborted foetuses.

But Mr Javid said that “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,” he continued, adding that just 36 of 363 abortion centres in England had experienced any pro-life activity at all.

The decision of Mr Javid was welcomed by Fiona Bruce, Conservative MP for Congleton, Cheshire, and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Life Group.

“This is a win for both the mothers who have been and will be helped outside abortion clinics and for the volunteers who give up their free time to offer help to these women,” said Mrs Bruce, pictured.

“The evidence gathered in the review has found that predominantly, pro-life activities outside abortion clinics are peaceful. In some places this has been the case for over 20 years.

“The volunteers themselves are committed to praying for and, if requested, to providing non-judgemental, practical support for women in crisis. As the statement makes clear, adequate legislation already exists so that the police have the powers to act in the extremely rare event of a non-peaceful protest.”

She continued: “I welcome the decision of the Home Secretary … to stand up for the long-established freedoms of expression and association in this country, and am grateful to him for listening to Members of Parliament on this important issue.

“We now hope to see local authorities follow suit in rejecting the imposition of ‘buffer zones’ at local level across the country.”

But Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn who said in a tweet that the Home Secretary’s decision represented a “shocking failure to protect women from harassment and intimidation when exercising their right to choose”.

In April, Ealing Council became the first local and only local authority in England to impose a 100-meter buffer zone around a Marie Stopes.

Abortion providers had hoped the Home Office review would result in the imposition of buffer zones around every clinic.

Clare Murphy of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, the largest private provider of abortions in the UK, said that following the decision of Mr Javid her organization would “now look to work with councils” to bring in exclusion zones.

But Clare McCarthy of Right to Life said: “The help these groups offer women outside abortion clinics is often indispensable and life-changing. Many of the women who have received help outside abortion clinics credit it with saving their child’s life.

“The volunteers outside the abortion clinics offer holistic practical and emotional support that can really transform the situation these women find themselves in. They offer women financial help, counselling, help with accommodation and baby clothes – the type of support that is certainly not being offered inside the abortion clinics.

“With this vital help, many women find the strength they need to go on to keep their baby. This announcement is a great victory for mothers who will both receive this help in the future and for those who will continue to be able to offer it.”

 

(Photos © Mazur/catholicnews.org.uk and Simon Caldwell)