Across the West, debate around social issues like abortion is intense. Two irreconcilable perspectives clash; one group claims that infants in the womb have no rights, while another maintains that all humans—born and unborn—should be protected by the law. But now, we may no longer even be able to provide information around this important issue that impacts the lives of millions. The UK Parliament has introduced, as Clause 9 of the Public Order Bill, legislation that would imprison pro-life citizens for sharing their beliefs or potentially even standing silently in the vicinity of an abortion facility.
The legislation sinks the threshold for criminal speech to unprecedented lows, explicitly banning pro-life volunteers from “influencing,” “advising,” “informing,” and even “expressing opinion” in the designated public space. Where local authorities have already implemented so-called ‘buffer zones’ in five councils across England, legislation has even criminalised silent prayer, ushering the first thoughtcrime into UK law.
This is a striking curtailment of basic human rights in the UK. Europeans who still cherish freedom should be watching closely; if the UK Parliament passes this legislation, it will open a door into a terrible place where thoughtcrime, or anything that goes against the current political ideology, will be policeable and punishable. As the UK Parliament considers introducing these buffer zones, now is the time to take action to protect free speech—and free thought—across Europe and the West.
Pro-abortion advocates insist that the buffer zones are necessary to protect women from harassment. Of course, harassment against women is deeply wrong—outside an abortion facility or anywhere else. Yet unsurprisingly, it is already illegal in the UK. In 2018, the Home Office carried out a review and found that harassment outside abortion clinics was rare, and that multiple pieces of existing law already give police ample powers to stop and prosecute harassment where it occurs. The review found that pro-life groups and individuals outside abortion facilities mostly offer leaflets about charitable help and pray quietly or silently.
So even the UK government knows that buffer zones offer no new protections against harassment. Instead, these zones would prohibit activities, speech, and even thoughts that are not only protected under human rights law, but actually offer help and support to vulnerable women.
Studies show that a majority of abortions happen because women do not feel like they have sufficient financial or emotional support to have a child; and, perhaps even more significantly, a recent study showed that after five years, 96% of women who sought abortion but were unable to have one had no regrets about keeping their child. Many women have shared stories of how conversations outside an abortion facility connected them with the resources and community they needed to make the choice they wanted to make: to keep their child.
Clause 9 would cut women off from that life-giving support. It would prohibit activities including “advising,” “informing,” and even “expressing opinion” outside an abortion facility. It would make it illegal to tell a woman seeking an abortion that if she needs help to make it possible for her to have her baby—be it baby supplies, housing, or a network of support—those things are available to her.
The language of Clause 9 is designed to ban any attempts to influence a decision about abortion. This, however, overlooks the reality that we are all being influenced all the time. A woman considering abortion is being influenced by her financial situation, her housing situation, the support or lack of support from family or partner. If she learns that she will not lose her home or be left destitute by giving birth, that information could open options to her that she previously considered impossible. Clause 9 would also prohibit pro-life individuals from telling women established facts about abortion, its after-effects for women, and the realities of foetal development. In other words, Clause 9 would ban influence and information that supports choosing life.
In seeking to introduce nation-wide buffer zones, the UK Parliament is no longer merely proposing to ban so-called ‘disinformation’; it is trying to ban the sharing of fact-based information that pro-abortion advocates would like to be silenced and that women are entitled to receive.
Similar laws introducing buffer zones are spreading like wildfire across the West—almost as if they are part of a calculated global strategy acting in unison. They have to be stopped if we are to hold on to any semblance of being a free society.