A Parliamentary Bill to ban demonstrations outside abortion clinics introduced by Rupa Huq MP has been passed with the support of 10 other Muslim MPs.
MPs voted to approve the Bill at the first stage by 213 votes to 47. However, unless it secures government support it is unlikely to become law.
The following Muslim MPs backed the bill: Rushanara Ali, Tahir Ali, Apsana Begum, Nusrat Ghani, Afzal Khan, Shabana Mahmood, Yasmin Qureshi, Naz Shah, Zarah Sultana and Mohammad Yasin.
Their votes come despite the fact that Islam regards abortion as haraam, except in certain extreme cases such as when a mother’s life is in danger. It is strictly prohibited as a lifestyle choice, though.
Speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, the Ealing Central and Acton MP said lockdown “had provided some respite” from protesters but “now they are at it again.”
She told MPs that staff at her local clinic reported “being hounded themselves” while women missed appointments or turned up in tears.
“This is about women being able to present themselves for legal healthcare free from intimidation,” she said. “It took over three decades of protests outside the Marie Stopes clinic in Ealing until the exasperated council in 2018 introduced Britain’s first buffer zone — a public spaces protection order, a local authority by-law — so that women could access healthcare services in confidence and dignity, with their journey down the street and up the path into the clinic unimpeded by anti-abortion or even pro-choice campaigners after having probably made the most difficult decision of their lives…
“Worse still was the anguish felt by women clinic users. They were usually young and about to go through a challenging process, sometimes after rape or a fatal foetal abnormality. The last thing they needed in that situation was to be met by lifelike, medically inaccurate foetus dolls and graphic images, handed misleading literature on the way in, or called ‘mum’ and told they would go to hell…
“Pregnancy is a personal thing, and shaming people undergoing it, with the added dimension of abortion, and pushing them into the spotlight in a public place —a public highway — violates this. As our chief superintendent put it, protesters can still protest; they have just moved a few hundred yards down the road.”
Freedom of speech?
But Conservative MP Fiona Bruce opposed the motion saying it would restrict legitimate freedom of speech.
“Let me be clear: I do not condone aggressive protest activities outside abortion clinics, but those are in the minority and imposing national legislation where it is not required would be a drastic overreaction. It would be a drastic overreaction because of the potential damage that this Bill could do to the more widely held freedom of speech in this country…
“However, the law does not prohibit speech that others might find upsetting or offensive. I find it upsetting to hear that 9 million unborn children have been aborted since 1967 — one every three minutes in Great Britain today; 600 every working day.
“We must not allow a situation where minority groups holding unpopular or unfashionable opinions that are within the law are shut down by those seeking to prevent the free speech of people whose views they disagree with.”
A Home Office spokesman said: “The right to protest is a vital part of a democratic society, but it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated, and we are clear we expect the police to take action in such cases.
“There are already powers in place for police and local authorities to restrict harmful protests and the previous Home Secretary (Sajid Javid) asked the police to work closely with abortion services, to ensure that all those visiting these services are not subjected to harassment or intimation.”
Last year, pro-life protesters lost a legal challenge against the UK’s first buffer zone implemented around a clinic in Dr Huq’s constituency.
Ealing Council said a 100-metre exclusion zone at the Marie Stopes centre had been put in place after women complained of being intimidated. The protesters said they were providing help to those visiting the clinic.
Spokesperson for Right to Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “By attempting to restrict where women facing unplanned pregnancies can receive compassionate emotional and practical support, the ‘pro-choice’ lobby are removing real choice for women and revealing they’re really just pro-abortion.
“Today, many babies are alive because their mothers were able to get the help they needed outside of an abortion clinic. We would, therefore, encourage the Government not to give this Bill any more time. In doing so they would send a clear signal that women should not be denied the choice of life-saving support for them and their baby.”
There were 207,384 abortions in 2019 for women resident in England and Wales, the highest number since the Abortion Act was introduced.
Ninety nine per cent of abortions in England and Wales were funded by the NHS in 2019, with 74% of all abortions taking place in the independent sector.