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High Court upholds criminalisation of prayer and Bible reading outside abortion clinic

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(Photo: Christian Concern)

The High Court has ruled that it is legal to criminalise activities like prayer and reading from the Bible within a buffer zone around an abortion clinic in Bournemouth.

A legal challenge against the buffer zone was brought by Christian Concern and Livia Tossici-Bolt, a volunteer with 40 Days for Life Bournemouth, with support from the Christian Legal Centre (CLC).

They contested the validity of the 150-metre exclusion zone imposed last October around the abortion facility by Bournemouth, Christchurch, and Poole Council under a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO).

The PSPO was brought in under Section 67 of the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. It criminalises vigils, offers of support and prayers within 150 metres of the clinic run by the British Pregnancy Advisory Group (BPAS), and breaching the PSPO could result in a fine and up to six months in prison.

Uniquely, the restrictions imposed within the Bournemouth buffer zone extend to both public spaces and private homes. Lawyers at the hearing contended that this could lead to residents being sent to prison for praying against abortion within the confines of their own home.

Mrs Tossici-Bolt said she was “very disappointed” by the ruling.

“Everyone must have the freedom to pray quietly in a public place,” she said.

“Everyone must have the freedom to give and to receive information. I, and my group of volunteers, would never dream of doing something that causes intimidation and harassment and I find it extremely concerning that unfounded accusations of such reprehensible behaviour have been used for ideological gains to discredit genuine humanitarian endeavours.

“We have already been intimidated out of exercising our freedom of thought and of expression, but have continued to defend these fundamental rights with a peaceful conduct.”

The unsuccessful legal challenge had also alleged that the measures were forced through by the local council following an “unlawful” public consultation, and that the restrictions extended police powers within the zone beyond the scope of the 2014 Act.

Andrea Williams, chief executive of Christian Concern, said they will appeal the ruling. She called on MPs and the government to “turn back the introduction of oppressive buffer zones” across the UK.

“Peaceful witness near abortion centres are helpful to many women in crisis pregnancies, offering genuine choice by providing support. Whatever the guidance or law says, arresting peaceful pro-lifers in these zones clearly breaches their human rights,” she said.

“The measures brought in by Bournemouth Council are disturbing in that they prevent women from being given access to alternatives to abortion. We see women choosing life for their children because of the presence of groups like 40 Days for Life outside clinics.

“There is no evidence whatsoever to show that anyone is being harassed outside abortion clinics. The truth is quite the opposite. It is the abortion supporters who intimidate and harass and do not permit the viewpoint that shows the women a pathway of life and hope.

“Following the introduction of Pills by Post at home abortions, the offer of help to women outside abortion clinics is one of the few lifelines left to those who feel helpless and coerced into going through with an abortion.

“Buffer zones are an oppressive part of the current culture which force consent and silence dissent. The saddest thing of all is that we are actually talking about human lives.”





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