Law against silent prayer in NI abortion censorship zones ‘now enforceable’

Legislation banning prayer and peaceful protest outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland has come into effect.

Green Party MLA Clare Bailey’s Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act passed its Final Stage in Stormont last year, and received Royal Assent in February.

In December, the UK Supreme Court rejected an appeal by the NI Attorney General over concerns that censorship zones were inconsistent with the right to peaceful protest.


The law criminalises anyone who hands out pro-life literature or speaks to anyone about abortion within the vicinity of a clinic.

According to the Department of Health NI, censorship zones – which can range from 100-250m around abortion clinics – will be imposed “in line with operational readiness” of the clinics.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland said it would be focussing on “supporting partners with engagement and understanding”, but that enforcement would be used where necessary.

‘Thought crime’

The UK Parliament has also given its backing to the introduction of censorship zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales, after Labour MP Stella Creasy tabled an amendment to the Public Order Bill.

She claimed it would not limit free speech and that it would protect women from alleged ‘intimidation and harassment’.

When the Bill was debated by the House of Lords, Peers severely criticised the amendment — criminalising people who pray or offer advice to pregnant women within a 150m radius of an abortion clinic — as a significant threat to personal freedom.

Conservative Peer Lord Farmer said the amendment risked putting “the UK’s first ‘thought crime’ into statute”.

Silent prayer

In March, pro-life campaigner Isabel Vaughan-Spruce was again arrested for silently praying within a council-imposed censorship zone in Birmingham.

The Public Spaces Protection Order in force around the abortion centre in the city prohibits individuals from “engaging in any act of approval or disapproval” in relation to abortion, including “prayer or counselling”.

But in February, Birmingham Magistrates’ Court dismissed a previous case against Miss Vaughan-Spruce after the Crown Prosecution Service failed to offer any evidence of unlawful behaviour and dropped the charges.

Responding to the verdict at the time, Vaughan-Spruce said: “I’m glad I’ve been vindicated of any wrongdoing. But I should never have been arrested for my thoughts and treated like a criminal simply for silently praying on a public street.”

Also see:


Abortion lobby attacks appointment of Minister with pro-life views

Death threats levelled at young pro-life campaigner

RC Archbishop decries censorship of ‘respectful pro-life witness’ in NI

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