Northern Ireland news

Bill creating ‘safe spaces' around abortion clinics set for Assembly debate

Green Party leader Clare Bailey previously described a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” outside facilities by anti-abortion campaigners
Rebecca Black, PA

A Private Member’s Bill to create “safe spaces” around abortion clinics is to be debated by the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Green Party leader Clare Bailey brought the Bill following complaints by some people of feeling harassed outside clinics.

She previously described a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” outside facilities by anti-abortion campaigners as having “escalated” in recent months.

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill will have its consideration stage tomorrow, one of the final stages before Royal Assent.

Ms Bailey gave evidence to the Stormont Health Committee on Tuesday to outline work to the Bill to address concerns raised.

She described new amendments to be proposed as “tightening up” and “clarity” rather than a policy shift.

“It became clear that some of the tidying up that was necessary to ensure that the new process would be workable in practise and that there was no uncertainty around any of the stages,” she told MLAs.

“The main changes are around how a premises becomes protected under the legislation, how a zone can be extended beyond the automatic 100 metres as set out in the new clause 5a and to clarify the obligation on the department around the publication of any zones.”

Northern Ireland’s abortion laws were liberalised in 2019, but provision of services has yet to be fully rolled out amid a political dispute over the highly sensitive issue.

Ms Bailey said due to this they were unsure which locations would be involved in her Bill.

“But amendment one will make sure that this Bill remains flexible to adapt to any changes in the provision of services, but in a way which remains workable, especially for the department to fulfil their role in the publishing of the zones,” she said.

Committee chairman Colm Gildernew welcomed the new amendments, saying they provided some reassurance to members.

He said that as a consequence, the committee would not move its amendment to the Bill. A majority of members agreed to this.

But DUP MLA Pam Cameron said she and her colleagues would not be supporting any amendments or sections of the Bill.

“We have all along put online our concerns around this piece of legislation. We do think it would probably be better if it was covered more generally under harassment laws,” she said.

“I think as the Bill is drafted we do believe that a lot more time would really need to be given to it, and we understand it is highly likely to be legally challenged.

“I think given that, it is not appropriate for us to support the Bill so we will be opposing. We will be opposing it in its entirety.”

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