Public Order Bill

Written evidence submitted by the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (POB03)


Public Order Bill 



The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is a prominent pro-life campaigning organisation in the UK. We represent the views of tens of thousands of pro-life supporters across the country.

We would like to present evidence to the Committee regarding New Clause 1, tabled by Dr Rupa Huq MP. The amendment, if passed, would create so called "buffer zones" around abortion facilities, and make it an offence to interfere "with any person’s decision to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion services in that buffer zone" – an offence punishable by up to two years in prison. SPUC is calling on the Committee to reject this clause.

SPUC does not organise vigils outside abortion clinics; however, the Society is committed to ensuring that pro-life citizens are allowed the opportunity to offer women the help that is not being offered anywhere else.


Dr Huq submitted an identical amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in 2021. Hundreds of members of the public contacted the Public Bill Committee for that Bill opposing that amendment (New Clause 43). [1] In a debate on Thursday 24 June 2021, the Minister Victoria Atkins said "we are concerned that a blanket ban across all of the service providers may not be proportionate" and "that a localised approach of PSPOs, with councils using the orders, is the way forward." She also agreed with Robert Goodwill MP that the amendment could unintentionally prevent people protesting about other matters around hospitals. [2] The amendment was withdrawn.

The reasons that New Clause 1 should not be included in the bill are:


Criminalising people for expressing pro-life views in public would be a huge departure from the UK’s long-standing tradition that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views.


New Clause 1 seeks to impose prison sentences of six months (for a first offence) or two years (for a second) on a person who "advises or persuades, or attempts to advise or persuade", "informs or attempts to inform" or "seeks to influence" a person regarding an abortion decision. This wording could lead to a partner or a parent of a woman seeking an abortion being criminalised for offering to support her if she has the baby. It could render the woman unable to discuss her decision with anyone who accompanied her to the clinic.

In addition, the 2017 Home Office Review found that out of the 363 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales that carried out abortions, 36 hospitals and clinics had experienced "anti-abortion demonstrations". In the debate last year, Minister Atkins gave an updated figure of "35 out of the 142 registered clinics are currently or have recently been affected by protest activities. Five hospitals have been affected." Dr Huq is trying to introduce a national measure for something that is clearly not a national or widespread issue. Most vigils involve under 10 people, so this amendment is targeting perhaps a few hundred people.

Denying help to women

SPUC’s main concern is that this amendment would deprive women of vital help. New Clause 1 assumes that all women approaching an abortion clinic will feel intimidated by the presence of a pro-life vigil. It leaves no possibility that some women want information or support about alternatives to abortion.

But this is not the case. There are many complex reasons women consider abortion and many women report feeling ambivalent at the time of their abortion. It could be a partner or family member is pressurising them into a decision; or they feel as though they need to choose between their child and their studies; or their financial situation makes them feel as though they have no other option. Instead of truly meeting the material and emotional needs of these women, abortion is presented as the only sensible solution. Many women report feeling as though they had ‘no choice’ but to have an abortion.

Pro-life vigils present an alternative in a peaceful and loving way. Many children are alive today because their mother met a loving pro-life person directly outside the abortion clinic – where desperate women most need help.

Alina Dulgheru took legal action against Ealing Council for imposing a buffer zone around the abortion clinic there. Alina herself received help from a pro-lifer at a vigil which allowed her to keep her baby, Sarah. Alina says:

"I made my choice to have an abortion because I didn’t have another solution. So I made my choice, but once I walked through that gate, there was a woman there saying, ‘we can offer you help.’ Then I felt that I did have a choice. I can choose, yes or no. I chose not to go ahead with the abortion because I did have another option I was given another option by the woman at the gate." [3]

Other women have similar stories.


"The thing that made me think about having abortion is that my circumstances were not good, because I had one son already and I had nowhere to live, and no financial support from anywhere. So that’s why I was very stressed out. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep another child in my life. That’s why I went for an abortion.

The abortion clinic I went to, they did not offer my any help, they just asked me to go for the procedure straight away. I decided to take a minute to think about it though because it was a very difficult decision for me.

So when I came outside there was someone from the Good Counsel Network there and they asked me why I was wanting to have an abortion so I explained my situation. They said to me that they would help me in every step with whatever I needed and were very kind to me. I went to the help centre with them and offered practical support.

If someone from Good Counsel was not there that day I would have been on the road [homeless] and I could have aborted my child. I would have been in depression so badly and regretting my decision.

I feel that my baby is a blessing from God; that God used the Good Counsel to give me this blessing.

Because of them, today my child is smiling in front of me and I’m very happy." [3]


During a debate on buffer zones in 2017, Sir Edward Leigh MP read out testimony from Kate.

"I never wanted to go through with an abortion but I felt a lot of pressure from people around me who offered it as a no brainer solution.

On the way into the clinic at the Marie Stopes clinic at Ealing I was offered a leaflet by a woman who I spoke to briefly. She just told me she was there if I needed her. I then went into the clinic, still not happy about being there for an abortion, but under immense pressure from a group of people that were with me to go through with it.

Once in the clinic, while the group were distracted I leapt out of the ground floor window and cleared 3 fences to escape. I talked to the woman on the gate again, who offered any support I needed to keep my baby and this gave me the confidence to leave where I was supported by the group that this woman worked with.

I didn’t find any aggression from the people offering support outside the Ealing clinic at all. They did have leaflets documenting the development of a baby, a fetus, in the early stages.

The potential introduction of buffer zones is a really bad idea because women like me, what would they do then? You know, not every woman that walks into those clinics actually wants to go through with the termination. There’s immense pressure, maybe they don’t have financial means to support themselves or their baby, or they feel like there’s no alternatives. These people offer alternatives.

I had my baby who is now three and a half years old. She’s an amazing, perfect little girl and the love of my life. I want MPs here today calling to introduce buffer zones to realise, that she would not be alive today, if they had their way." [4]


There are also stories from women who wish that they had been offered help outside an abortion clinic. Amy had an abortion when she was 18 years old after being sexually assaulted by her boyfriend.

Speaking in support of pro-life vigils outside abortion clinics, Amy said:

"The moments before my abortion took place, I was looking around the hospital, wondering if there was an alternative. I found nothing on that day, and unfortunately I went back and I went through with the abortion. And since that time, I’ve realised that what I was looking for was somebody, anybody, with an alternative…I was looking for anyone with a ray of hope. Sometimes you do just want somebody to say ‘there is an alternative - and here’s a number, here’s my number.

"I’ve seen people with signs saying ‘if you’re pregnant and need help come here.’ Well if I had seen that that day, I would have been there, and I would have got some different advice and my story would have ended very differently.

"To remove people from praying outside clinics or being present outside clinics, it just isolates women who are having a crisis all the more. That might have been the only opportunity they had to speak to anyone who could offer them real counselling. And that is the last step before it’s too late. It’s a total disgrace in my mind that anyone could consider moving people." [5]


The Committee should reject any misplaced emphasis on the right to privacy as a justification for buffer zones; a pivotal point in the 2019 Court of Appeal decision on the Dulgheriu [7] case. 

Pro-life people respect the privacy of women seeking an abortion. However, privacy effectively becomes a prison for any woman who is uncertain about her decision to abort her baby, but no one is allowed to reach out to her. It is the view of SPUC that if a woman has got as far as the abortion clinic and is still unsure about her decision, or does not want to abort her baby, her right to ‘privacy’ should not be used to prevent her from getting help. Such a woman ends up aborting her baby, against her better judgement or her will, because there was no one to whom she could turn.

The Court of Appeal decision on Dulgheriu cites the women who use the Ealing abortion clinic: "Some are children. Some are victims of rape. Some are carrying foetuses with abnormalities, even fatal abnormalities. Some may not have told friends or family … They may be in physical pain and suffering acute psychological and emotional issues both when attending and leaving the Centre. " These are precisely the women to whom peaceful pro-life people offer help, and many accept that help.

The Ask for ANI scheme [8] recognises that vulnerable or desperate women need to be able to get help in a crisis. Women who "Ask for ANI" and those who turn to pro-lifers outside an abortion clinic are those who cannot find the help they need anywhere else.

Pro-lifers are not harassing women

The justification given by those campaigning for buffer zones is that pro-life people are intimidating and harassing women outside abortion clinics. Of course, we would condemn any genuine incidents of such behaviour, and the police already have powers to combat instances of intimidation. However, pro-lifers at peaceful vigils do not behave in a harassing or intimidating manner. They are simply praying and making it clear that help is available. The stories above make it clear that these women experienced no judgement or intimidating behaviour, but kindness and offers of much appreciated support.

In 2018, the Home Office carried out an extensive review of abortion clinic vigils. In a written statement, the then Home Secretary said that "the main activities reported to us that take place during protests include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets." He concluded "introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature." [9]

The issue was also explored in a select committee inquiry into "Harassment and intimidation near abortion clinics" in 2017. Members of the committee, Ealing councillors defending the buffer zone there, and Clare Murphy from BPAS all recognised that there had been no prosecutions for harassment outside abortion clinics. [10] Those making allegations of intimidation and harassment were unable to back them up with evidence.

New Clause 1 is an attack on freedom of expression.

New Clause 1 seeks to criminalise pro-life people expressing their sincerely held beliefs in a public space. This is a blatant attack on freedom of speech and expression. In a free and democratic society, people should not be threatened with jail sentences for respectfully expressing opposition to abortion and offering women alternatives. As the Home Office review into this issue said: "In this country, it is a long-standing tradition that people are free to gather together and to demonstrate their views. This is something to be rightly proud of."

Local councils have already used Public Space Protection Orders to ban pro-life witnesses outside abortion clinics. These measures have been described as an "unprecedented infringement on the right to freedom of expression – which includes the right to give or receive information." [11]

Several civil liberties organisations have protested against the use of a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in Ealing, which bans a pro-life vigil taking place outside the Marie Stopes centre there. Groups including Liberty wrote to councillors to express concern, while Josie Appleton, director of Manifesto Club, which has been campaigning against the over-use of PSPOs for the past four years, said the vote was a "travesty for public freedoms". She said: "If protesters are harassing or obstructing women, they should be prosecuted under the existing criminal law. It should not be a crime for them to pray silently or offer women a leaflet as they enter the clinic. We visited the site for several hours and could see no evidence of harassment or public nuisance."

New Clause 1 makes the assumption that every woman approaching an abortion clinic will find the presence of a pro-life vigil intimidating and offensive. Clearly this is not true. Some women have reported that they found a pro-life presence disturbing. However, it is a draconian response to deprive pro-life people of the freedom to pray in public and offer help to women, even more to criminalise them.


New Clause 1 seeks to impose severe jail sentences on peaceful citizens who oppose abortion and who offer help to women in need. We call on the Committee to reject this extreme and undemocratic measure.

More importantly, however, New Clause 1 would remove a lifeline from women who are uncertain about their decision and feel they have no choice but abortion. Claims of widespread intimidation and harassment outside abortion clinics have not been substantiated by those opposed to pro-life vigils. There are existing laws dealing with intimidation and harassment. We urge the Committee not to include this unnecessary, uncaring and undemocratic amendment in the Public Order Bill.

May 2022







[7] Dulgheriu & Anor v The London Borough of Ealing [2019] EWCA Civ 1490 (21 August 2019) URL:






Prepared 10th June 2022