A person caught praying outside an abortion clinic in England can now face up to six months in prison–even if they pray silently.
In a 297-110 vote, members of Parliament backed an amendment to the Government's Public Order Bill that would outlaw the offering of prayer and advice to women outside of abortion clinics.
Labour Member of Parliament (MP) Stella Creasy introduced the bill to protect women from alleged "intimidation and harassment" but critics argue it restricts freedom of speech and expression.
"There is no evidence of the scale of harassment related, indeed, some in this house have referred to today. Therefore, I would take this amendment is not necessary," said MP Carla Lockhart. "It would risk all intended consequences for freedom of speech and freedom of expression, and it would be bad for women."
She added, "So a blanket ban is an unnecessary and disproportionate response, especially when the police can protect women through other lawful means. The police already have the tools they need to protect women."
One woman who had her baby's life saved because of a pro-life volunteer called the new measure a "bad idea."
"The potential introduction of buffer zones is a really bad idea because women like me, what would they do then," she asked. "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."
The U.K. has already taken steps to implement censorship zones that prohibit someone from using a mic to audibly pray and recite scripture outside of a clinic or kneel 500 feet outside a facility, according to the Christian Initiative.
This new law could not only stop pro-life advocates from gathering at a home or church located close to the clinic but it would also jail people who silently pray outside of an abortion facility. Additionally, posters and advertisements promoting a pro-life message could not be displayed, if they are seen from the street.
"The wording could even catch those quietly praying," explained MP Fiona Bruce. "But when did it become against the law in this country to pray? Well, unfortunately, five councils have now defined protests as including the word 'prayer.' Indeed, during the course of court proceedings, this has even been confirmed as including 'silent prayer.'"
Bruce, a Christian, said the bill is a threat to the freedoms of "thought, conscience, speech, belief and assembly", which are rights in the U.K.'s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
"Hundreds of women have been helped outside abortion clinics by pro-life volunteers who have provided them with practical support, which made it clear to them that they had another option other than going through with the abortion," said Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson.
"This passing of this amendment means that the vital practical support provided by volunteers outside abortion clinics will be removed for women and many more lives will likely be lost to abortion," she added.
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