The Home Affairs Committee has been criticised for its handling of an evidence session on abortion buffer zones.
Last week, MPs heard from abortion industry representatives and pro-life groups after the Government announced a review of abortion protests.
Despite seeing no concrete evidence of harassment or violence by pro-life activists outside clinics, committee chair Yvette Cooper MP recommended that “further measures” be taken.
Cooper was also criticised for her treatment of pro-life representatives, who she repeatedly interrupted and interrogated.
— Caroline Farrow (@CF_Farrow) December 12, 2017
During the two-hour session last Tuesday, Clare Murphy, of abortion group BPAS, claimed that interactions between peaceful pro-life protestors and women seeking an abortion can have “really profoundly awful consequences”.
John Hansen-Brevetti, of abortion group Marie Stopes International, seconded her claim, saying he had seen “intimidation and attacks” increase.
Pro-lifers Clare McCullough of the Good Counsel Network and Antonia Tully of SPUC strongly disputed their claims.
McCullough told the committee: “There is no evidence for these things happening”, adding, “it is an absolute disgrace that people can bring this kind of evidence against you and just say it is so to make it so”.
Tully also stressed that she had not seen evidence of harassment, saying “what we do see is peaceful, prayerful people standing near abortion facilities offering women the help that they are simply not getting anywhere else”.
“The pro-life movement in this country for the last 50 years has been a peaceful, law-abiding movement, and nothing has changed.”
At the end of the session, despite receiving no concrete proof that harassment had taken place, Cooper said, “if you’re not prepared to accept the impact that people describe then it makes it rather difficult to see how a resolution can be found without there being any further measures or further legal action taken”.
Writing on Twitter after the evidence session, pro-life former MP Robert Flello said: “Sadly this is what I’ve seen over the years from Yvette and others. The Committee’s report was effectively written before the inquiry began”.
— Rob Flello FCILT (@RobertFlello) December 12, 2017
Pro-life group Right To Life also spoke out saying: “Absolutely clear that [Yvette Cooper MP] utterly biased. Her concluding remarks disgraceful in assuming existence of harassment on hearsay”.
Absolutely clear that @YvetteCooperMP utterly biased. Her concluding remarks disgraceful in assuming existence of harassment on hearsay & on ludicrous subjective standard of what harasses. Clearly gearing for national #BufferZones. #PSPOs #BackOff #FreeSpeech #SayNo2BufferZones
— Right To Life (@RightToLifeUK) December 12, 2017
The Home Affairs Committee hearing will inform a review of abortion protests by the Home Office, announced last month.
Ministers will review the “scale and nature” of abortion protests and could hand the police new powers to silence pro-life opposition.
John Smeaton, Director of SPUC, said the review is “biased” and a “wholly inappropriate response to small numbers of prayerful people who offer leaflets to women”.