Submission guide – Responding to the
Home Office “Abortion Clinic Protest Review”
The Government has launched a public consultation about vigils outside abortion facilities. It is essential that as many voices against the introduction of censorship zones are heard as part of the consultation. The law already protects people against abuse or harassment in public and censorship zones would set a dangerous precedent in censoring segments of civil society.
Why does it matter?
It is essential that as many voices against the introduction of censorship zones are heard as part of the consultation. The law already protects people against abuse or harassment in public and censorship zones would set a dangerous precedent in censoring segments of civil society.
Can I contribute?
The guidance states that “members of the public or organisations, who have experience of protest activity outside abortion clinics, are invited to contribute evidence to the review.” However, as will be expanded below, there would be great value from contributions of those who do not have direct experience of vigils.
Please also share this guide with anyone you know who might support the right of vigils to exist and encourage them to respond.
When is the deadline?
Monday 19 February 2018. Submissions are still being accepted throughout Monday, so please do ahead with making a submission today.
How can I contribute?
You can use the Be Here For Me website to make a submission to the Home Office Consultation.
Alternatively, if you would prefer to respond to fill out the full survey, you can do that here or by email at ACPReview@homeoffice.gsi.gov.uk or you can post a response to: Abortion Clinic Protest Review Team, Police Powers Unit, Home Office, 2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
What can I say?
You must draw on your own experience of attending or seeing vigils. The points below might help you to make an effective response.
Not every question applies to those who participate in vigils, so you are not expected to answer every question.
Respond by email
The online response is convenient. However, we recommend emailing the department at the address above in addition to completing the online form. Emailing allows you to criticise the content and the scope of the consultation. In your response, the following points (in your own words) would be especially effective:
- Your name and address and the name of the group you belong to or support (if applicable).
- The clinic/hospital where you attend the vigil.
The nature of the consultation
- The online consultation is framed primarily to ‘collect evidence’ (allegations and testimony) against vigil attendees. It is not framed to encourage a full response from the public about the desirability of buffer zones. As such it is not a proper consultation on the issue.
- The title of the consultation itself suggests bias, and that the exercise is simply legitimising a pre-conceived conclusion.
- Vigils have been branded as simply a ‘protest’ when in fact they are often a mixture of charitable outreach, expression of religious belief and the free assembly of citizens among other things.
- There have been no widespread calls for new powers from police or legal experts; the consultation is the result of an effective BPAS lobbying effort, an organisation that would gain financially from the implementation of buffer zones.
The reality of vigils
- Say if you pray outside the clinic/hospital and/or counsel women.
- How often the vigil takes place and how often you attend.
- Describe your personal experience of helping or witnessing a woman receiving help to keep her child. Include any testimony of that life-changing help.
- Describe any follow-up contact you may have had with women who kept their baby
- or those who did not.
- Describe the peaceful, prayerful nature of the vigils.
- Include your view on why it is essential that the vigils continue to take place, and what it would mean if buffer zones were implemented. Some points below may help you:
- Women are not always certain that they want an abortion even though they are entering the clinic.
- Abortion providers do not offer practical help for women who are unable to receive welfare from the state.
Why buffer zones are bad for society
- There been no widespread calls for new powers from police or legal experts.
- Police already have wide-ranging powers to prevent and punish abusive or intimidating behaviour.
- Prosecutions and convictions have never resulted from pro-life vigils.
- We should charge people with offences when they occur rather than criminalising otherwise legal, moderate behaviour.
- Buffer zones would criminalise citizens looking to give charity to those that want it but cannot find it elsewhere. They would deprive many women of the life-saving help they cannot get anywhere else.
- The Human Rights Act 1998 guarantees the ability of all people to practise freedom of public assembly, freedom of speech freedom of religion, and freedom to share information. Buffer zones would compromise the exercise of those rights.
- Freedom of speech is threatened. Buffer zones are more aptly termed ‘censorship zones’. Such a policy contradicts the government’s crackdown on safe spaces on university campuses.
- PSPOs have been criticised by civil liberty groups such as Liberty and the Manifesto club as being unnecessary and draconian. Creating buffer zones would be a breach of the constitutional principle of ‘minimal criminalisation’.