Alarm in House of Lords at ‘censorship zone’ threat to religious freedom

An amendment to the Government’s Public Order Bill outlawing peaceful protest outside abortion clinics in England and Wales has been severely criticised by peers.

Members of the House of Lords said the new clause — criminalising people who pray or offer advice to pregnant women within a 150m radius of an abortion clinic — posed a significant threat to religious freedom.

MPs have already given their backing to Stella Creasy’s ‘censorship zone’ proposal by 297 votes to 110, but the Government admitted that the change had rendered the Bill incompatible with human rights law.

Unjustified and disproportionate

The Lord Bishop of St Albans expressed “serious concerns” about the amendment on the grounds that it was vaguely worded, disproportionate and unnecessary.

an unjustified threat to the right to peaceful protest

Crossbench peer Lord Hope of Craighead argued: “given the powers that the police already have—that is, the existing laws—these provisions are disproportionate and amount to an unjustified threat to the right to peaceful protest”.

Baroness O’Loan feared the zones could prove harmful to vulnerable women, depriving them of “practical, emotional and other forms of support of which they may previously have been unaware or were unable to access”.

‘Thought crime’

If silent prayers were to be caught by the Bill, the Conservative Peer Lord Farmer said, the amendment risked putting “the UK’s first ‘thought crime’ into statute”.

He also lamented the “active disdain for pro-life charities’ role in helping women step away from the people and pressures that are pushing them down the abortion route.

the UK’s first ‘thought crime’

“One might say that there is cultural coercion: an underlying assumption that abortion is the only plausible route for a pregnant woman in certain circumstances to go down”.

Responding to the debate, Home Officer Minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “The Government will consider how to implement and deliver this amendment.” The Bill will now move to Committee stage where peers have opportunity to table their own amendments.

Also see:

Baby feet

Abortion lobby attacks appointment of Minister with pro-life views

QC: Scottish censorship zones could breach human rights law

Pro-abortion doctors demand end to peaceful protest outside clinics

‘Draconian’ abortion ‘buffer zones’ to face legal challenge in NI

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