“Northern Ireland’s broadly drafted law hands arbitrary power to police officers, with the inevitable consequence being the unjust arrest and prosecution of those expressing pro-life views, even though such views are protected under domestic and international human rights law,” he added.
Another critic of the law is Alina Dulgheriu. She changed her mind about having an abortion because pro-life advocates at the doors of an abortion clinic offered to help her. She now speaks on behalf of the pro-life group Be Here for Me.
“What kind of society withholds help from vulnerable women?” Dulgheriu asked. “I didn’t want an abortion but I was abandoned by my partner, my friends, and society. My financial situation at the time would have made raising a child very challenging.”
“Thanks to the help I was offered by a group outside of a clinic before my appointment, my daughter is here today,” she said. “My experience is typical of hundreds of others. Refusing charitable volunteers from offering much-needed services and resources for women in my situation is wrong. Let them help.”
For its part, Precious Life said it “will not be deterred by this court ruling.”
“Our legal team is now working on how this ruling can be appealed and challenged in the European Court of Human Rights,” the group said. “Meanwhile, we will redouble our efforts in our public awareness campaigns to expose the horrific reality of what abortion does to an innocent baby in the womb.”
“In a humane society, the safest place for a baby should be their mother’s womb. Precious Life will work to create ‘safe zones’ for all unborn babies and their mothers throughout Northern Ireland.”
Lois McLatchie, communications officer for ADF UK, cited a 2018 Home Office review of the work of pro-life advocates outside abortion clinics. The most common pro-life efforts include quiet or silent prayer or offering leaflets about alternatives to abortion and charitable support for women. The review found that instances of harassment outside abortion clinics are “rare” and police already have powers to stop it.
“Censorship zones go much further. They introduce a disproportionate and unjustified blanket ban on all pro-life activity, including offering meaningful charitable help and support to women where they need it most,” McLatchie said. “Authorities do not hold a right to silence the public expression of a viewpoint with which they simply disagree.”
In addition to the Northern Ireland law, several U.K. town councils have passed similar laws.
Observers expect the decision of the Supreme Court will likely influence the direction of similar legislation in Scotland, England, and Wales.
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Parliamentarians in England and Wales have also conveyed concern about the direction of religious freedom within their jurisdiction as the Public Order Bill makes its way through Parliament.
Clause 9 of the bill proposes to institute “buffer zones” around abortion clinics nationwide, which campaigners argue would have a detrimental impact on outreach for women facing crisis pregnancies while raising fundamental questions concerning freedom of religion and expression. The clause faced notable scrutiny in the House of Lords on Nov. 22 as peers across the political spectrum expressed their unease with the introduction of buffer zones.
“Westminster’s proposal to ban such activities is much further reaching than Northern Ireland’s,” Igunnubole commented. He said it would ban “informing,” “advising,” “persuading,” or even “occupying space” or “expressing opinion” with a penalty of up to two years in prison.
“This is clearly grossly disproportionate. Nobody should be censored for simply holding pro-life beliefs,” he said.