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Bill to create safe spaces around abortion clinics in Northern Ireland delayed


The Bill failed to receive cross community support for an Assembly debate. Stock image.

The Bill failed to receive cross community support for an Assembly debate. Stock image.

The Bill failed to receive cross community support for an Assembly debate. Stock image.

An attempt to introduce safe access zones outside abortion clinics has been delayed after it failed to receive cross community support for an Assembly debate on the matter.

MLAs had agreed to allow some business to be brought forward to Tuesday as the clock counts down on the remainder of this Assembly mandate.

However, despite agreeing to a debate on a new law on defamation earlier in the day, members of the TUV and DUP opposed a request for the final stage debate on safe access zones to also be brought forward to Tuesday.

The private members bill is expected to receive sufficient support to allow it to pass into law when it is debated on Thursday instead.

Speaking in the chamber after the vote, Green Party leader Clare Bailey, the bill sponsor, said: “It is extremely disappointing that members saw fit to vote this down because the business committee and every party whip did support the suspension of standing order 42.1.

“They agreed among themselves they would allow that to happen, to let business happen in this chamber, so I want to put on record that shame on those who agreed to support that and chose this as the one and only bill that they would vote down.

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“So, I’ll see you on Thursday and scundered for you.”

Speaking afterwards, Ms Bailey described the move to prevent her bill from moving forward on Tuesday as a “stunt”.

She said the DUP and TUV do not have the numbers to table a petition of concern or vote down the bill.

She continued: “This bill is about ending the deliberate campaign of intimidation and harassment facing women across Northern Ireland.

“It’s about protecting workers. It’s about protecting people’s rights to access healthcare workers.”

As part of the process to implement the law, the Stormont health committee has heard from a range of interested parties, including doctors who have described patients being left in tears after they were approached by anti-abortion campaigners.

One clinician gave an example of a refugee who was seeking an abortion after she was raped while fleeing a warzone who was intimidated by protestors.

She also revealed a different patient who had received a terminal cancer diagnosis was branded a ‘murderer’ by protestors as she accessed an abortion clinic to allow her to begin cancer treatment to prolong her life.

Meanwhile, in December, the identity of a number of Department of Health officials was withheld during a health committee evidence session after it emerged they had received a “low level threat” for their work on buffer zones outside abortion clinics.

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill seeks to introduce zones outside sexual health centres where protests and demonstrations would not be allowed.

Members of the DUP and TUV have argued existing legislation relating to harassment should be reviewed which would be sufficient to address concerns about patient and staff safety and welfare.

However, this has been rejected by Ms Bailey who said women would have to be approached twice by the same person and also actively complain about harassment.

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