The UK Supreme Court has ruled in favour of buffer zones outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland.
In a judgement handed down on Wednesday, the Court unanimously supported the legality of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Northern Ireland Bill, which was passed by the Northern Irish Assembly in March.
It was referred to the Supreme Court following a challenge by anti-choice campaigners.
The judgement will make it illegal for pro-life activists to stage demonstrations within a 100m vicinity of abortion clinics.
Of the restrictions put in place by the Bill, the Court stated: “They are required to protect the rights of women seeking treatment or advice, and are also in the interests of the wider community, including other patients and staff of clinics and hospitals.”
It found that the protection of the private lives and autonomy of women is of “particular importance”, and those who choose to access abortion services have a “reasonable expectation” to do so.
The Court said that in doing so, women should not be confronted by protest activity designed to “challenge and diminish their authority and undermine their resolve”.
It added that the Bill only prevents anti–abortion protestors from exercising their rights “within designated safe access zones” – leaving them free to protest “anywhere else they please”.
The Bill will implement a maximum penalty of a £500 fine on protesters who enter safe access zones, or buffer zones.
The “historic event” is thought to have set a vital precedent for MSP Gillian Mackay’s proposed Abortion Services Safe Access Zones Bill in Scotland, which is currently making its way through Holyrood.
Speaking after the verdict, Mackay said: “This is a very welcome decision, and a truly historic day for reproductive rights. It will provide vital and much needed protections.
“Abortion rights are healthcare, and this sets a crucial precedent for the introduction of my Bill to introduce buffer zones in Scotland.”
She added: “Nobody should be obstructed or harassed when accessing healthcare, yet, all across Scotland, people are being forced to endure a gauntlet of graphic images and abuse when accessing abortion services.
“This is totally wrong and I look forward to the day when my Bill will end such shameful scenes for good”.
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