Amber Rudd considers new laws to stop harassment at abortion clinics

New laws could be introduced to protect women from being harassed and intimidated at abortion clinics, the Home Office has said.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd has ordered an in-depth assessment of protests outside family planning clinics following concerns about the tactics used by some demonstrators.

The review aims to gather evidence from police forces, healthcare providers and local authorities before considering what action can be taken to protect those using or working in abortion clinics.

The Government said this could include “bolstering existing or creating new police and civil powers”.

Ms Rudd said: “While everyone has a right to peaceful protest, it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment.

“The decision to have an abortion is already an incredibly personal one, without women being further pressured by aggressive protesters.

“Let me be clear, this review is about ensuring the police, healthcare providers and local authorities have the right powers to protect women making these tough decisions.

“But this isn’t to kick the issue into the long grass. The review will collect the detailed evidence and firm recommendations that allow us to take the right action to tackle this problem.”

Police already have a range of powers to manage protests while current laws provide protection against harassment, and the Home Secretary said all suspected offences will be robustly investigated.

But the Government said the review, to be conducted by Home Office officials, will consider what more needs to be done, looking at international comparisons in the light of similar protests in Australia, France and the United States.

Labour MP Rupa Huq, who has campaigned for a change in the law after protests at a clinic in her Ealing Central and Acton constituency, said: “I have been speaking out on this issue in Parliament for some time now.

“So I am pleased that the Home Secretary is undertaking a comprehensive review into the daily intimidation that women face when trying to access NHS-provided healthcare.

“Whilst I welcome this review, the demands of the original campaign remain. A radial zone to exclude protests within 150 metres and no less must be drawn.

“This would include silent praying, singing hymns, displaying foetus images and leaflet distribution.

“The complete anonymity of women seeking terminations should be protected as one would expect with any other NHS procedure.

“The situation in my own constituency and conversations I’ve had with colleagues of all parties – including Amber Rudd, whose own Hastings seat has one such clinic – made me come to the conclusion that it is high time this was addressed.

“I welcome the review, then, with cautious optimism and hope that it reports in a timely fashion rather than pushing this important issue into the long grass.”

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Matthews / PA Wire.