I think it is important that anyone considering an abortion receives impartial, non-directive and clinical information on pregnancy in order to make an informed choice without being pressured into either continuing with their pregnancy or having an abortion.

Given how difficult and stressful this decision is, it is vital that women are able to access confidential medical and psychological advice and support without fear of harassment or intimidation. I was concerned to hear that there has been an increase in the number of protests outside abortion clinics, with some positioning themselves directly outside clinics and blocking entrances.

It is important, of course, that people are able to protest peacefully and to express their views. However, I appreciate that the British Pregnancy Advisory Services’ (BPAS) ‘Back Off’ campaign has highlighted that these protests can intimidate both women considering an abortion or receiving other reproductive healthcare and the staff at these clinics. Indeed, BPAS report that in one case these protests have been so distressing that staff at a clinic have asked for the abortion service to be closed.

I believe the Government should now look at what further action can be taken to ensure that women can attend sensitive health care appointments and that health care workers can do their jobs without fear of abuse toward patients and staff.

In particular, I believe the Government should consider the experience of other countries and consult with health service providers, patients and the police about the potential for operating ‘buffer zones’ around clinics. As you may be aware, in the US, Canada and France, a number of measures – including buffer zones – have been introduced to stop anti-abortion protests happening directly outside clinics and prevent protestors approaching patients or staff.

I have signed EDM 172 and hope that it will contribute to bringing this matter to the Government’s attention. My career before becoming an MP was devoted to protecting the rights of women to live their lives without fear of abuse or harassment. I will continue that fight in Parliament and will be closely following developments on this issue in future.

Posted in February 2016.

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