House of Lords Passes Buffer Zone Amendment That Turns Prayer into "Thought Crime"

Country: United Kingdom

Date of incident: January 30, 2023

On the 30th of January, the House of Lords passed an amendment that introduces fines for citizens found guilty of “influencing any person’s decision to access, provide or facilitate the provision of abortion services” within 150 metres of these service facilities. The amendment made to the Public Order Bill was tabled by Conservative peer Baroness Suggs.

Over past months pro-life activists have been arrested for breaching buffer zones implemented by local councils, with two campaigners charged on the basis of silently prayer within exclusion zones.

In a statement opposing the buffer zones – and making reference to these cases – Bishop John Sherrington, the lead on life issues for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, warned that the “implications” of the bill “extend beyond the perimeters of an abortion service and raise questions about the state's powers in relation to the individual in a free society, both those with faith and those without”.

Pro-choice activists have defended the measures, however, with parliamentary supporters of the bill citing the “adverse” clinical and “psychological impact” of buffer zone protests. 

The amendment is likely to make the passage of the government’s controversial Public Order bill – widely criticised by civil liberties groups – even more fraught.

As a result of the amendment, Sir Edward Leigh MP, a Conservative, has promised to vote against the bill, and stated in the Commons debate that other pro-life MPs would follow suit.

Similar legislation is expected to be introduced in Scotland and Northern Ireland in the near future.

Referring to recent cases of people being charged after praying near abortion clinics, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, said: “These cases further highlight the dangers to free expression and belief inherent in these buffer zones. They demonstrate how quickly the position could be that the specific act that turns someone into a criminal is whether they had particular thoughts in their head while in a buffer zone area.”


Source: The TabletCatholic HeraldThe Iona Institute

Photo: The Tablet