An international 40 Days for Life director has said a bill proposed by the ruling Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party that would criminalize “harassment” of women entering abortion clinics is a “threat to democracy.”

Tomislav Cunovic, director of 40 Days for Life for International Affairs, told ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish language sister news agency, that "it’s a fundamental right that people can go out on the street, meet and express their opinion."

“This new law criminalizes pro-life people who gather and pray peacefully in front of abortion clinics. This law interferes with these fundamental rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the Constitution of Spain and by international conventions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights,” he pointed out.

“The people from 40 Days for Life pray peacefully, they don’t speak to pregnant women, nor to those who work in the clinics. We are outside praying, giving silent witness that each life has its dignity," he explained, and pointed out that although with this bill "it seems they want to protect pregnant women, no one talks about unborn children, who must also be protected because they have the right to life, they have dignity.”

The bill was introduced May 21 by the PSOE’s coalition. It would criminalize "harassing women going to clinics for the voluntary interruption of pregnancy." Anyone promoting, favoring, or participating in demonstrations near abortion clinics would be subject to penalties.

Penalties for what would be deemed harassment would include jail terms of three months to a year, or community service from 31 to 80 days. Depending on circumstances, an individual could also be barred from a particular location for between six months and three years.

In the exposition of motives for introducing the bill, the PSOE characterized the “harassment” of pro-life witness at abortion clinics as “approaching women with photographs, model fetuses, and proclamations against abortion … the objective is for the women to change their decision through coercion, intimidation, and harassment.”

The socialist parliamentary group said it “considers it essential to guarantee a safety zone” around abortion clinics.

Cunovic called the bill "exaggerated" because "it interferes too much with rights and it’s not clear because it doesn’t work with specific concepts, but rather leaves a lot of room.”

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"It‘s not clear what is prohibited, it gives a lot of room to the police to criminalize people," he said.

In addition, Cunovic said this bill aims to "threaten people with psychological warfare" because "it’s no longer necessary to do an objectively wrong thing to be punished, but rather it enters into a subjective level where it’s sufficient for a person to feel offended for the other person to be punished.”

The 40 Days for Life Director of International Affairs pointed out that it’s "a contradiction with rational laws because room is beginning to open up for ‘I feel bad because you’re looking at me the wrong way and you can end up in jail for that’. You have to get back to an objective level, of fact. People who are praying in the street don’t touch or speak to the women.” 

‘They’re just quietly praying, but this law says that women can feel bad about their presence. So you enter into a subjective and conflictive area, because you're dealing with a fiction that your look can make me feel bad. It’s a thought crime, it’s dangerous to play that game of thinking about what you have in your head and judging you for it,” he said.

Cunovic also warned of the danger to democracy posed by laws like this, since “today the voice of pro-life people is being silenced, but tomorrow that law may prohibit something else. You could say: 'From now on we don't like this particular option.' With that we are killing democratic discourse and that’s a great danger for democracy.”

However, the 40 Days for Life leader still hopes there will be judges who "apply the law and protect citizens," because those standing outside abortion clinics "aren’t criminals, they’re citizens who pay their taxes, who work and have the right to go out and be in public space. Because in this multicultural and pluralistic society, everyone has their right and their space,” he stressed.

Finally he said that “it’s surprising that you can defend all the interests you want, but pro-lifers have to keep quiet. You can’t say this or that on this issue because someone is offended. It’s a form of persecution against the Christian voice and Christian values.”

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The Congress of Deputies voted to take up consideration of the bill in September by a vote of 199 to 144, with two abstentions. Only the two largest opposition parties, the People's Party and Vox, voted against it.

Several locales have in recent years considered or adopted “buffer zones” around abortion clinics that limit free speech in the protected areas.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is considering such a proposal, and Scotland’s Green Party has urged the adoption of one.

Proposals for buffer zones around abortion clinics throughout England and Wales were rejected as disproportionate by the then-British Home Secretary in September 2018, after finding that most abortion protests are peaceful and passive.

The typical activities of those protesting outside of abortion clinics in England and Wales “include praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets,” Sajid Javid noted.

In England, a buffer zone was imposed by Ealing Council, in west London, around a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in April 2018. The zone prevents any pro-life gathering or speech, including prayer, within about 330 feet of the clinic.

The Ealing buffer zone was cited by Javid as an example of a local government using civil legislation “to restrict harmful protest activities,” rather than a nationwide policy.