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Home Secretary considers banning vigils outside abortion clinics

Home Secretary Amber Rudd (Getty Images)

The government is considering restricting prayer vigils outside abortion clinics, the Home Office has said.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said women needed protection from supposedly “aggressive protesters”, and that the government would carry out a review of existing legislation, and consider giving police and local authorities new powers to stop pro-lifers gathering outside abortion clinics.

“While everyone has a right to peaceful protest, it is completely unacceptable that anyone should feel harassed or intimidated simply for exercising their legal right to healthcare advice and treatment,” Ms Rudd said.

“The decision to have an abortion is already an incredibly personal one, without women being further pressured by aggressive protesters.”

The Home Office review will consider how similar measures have work in the US, Australia and France.

The move comes amid a campaign by Labour MP Rupa Huq to create so-called “buffer zones” around abortion clinics to ban people from holding prayer vigils and offering leaflets to women.

Ms Huq, who previously accused pro-lifers of “weaponising rosary beads”, organised a letter demanding that the Home Secretary impose the zones. A total of 113 MPs, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, signed the letter, which spoke of protesters using “oversized signs of distressing and graphic” images and calling women “murderers”.

Clare McCullough, director of The Good Counsel Network, which organises the vigils in Ealing, has strongly denied the claims, and has written a counter-letter to the Home Secretary to “state categorically that no one attending our vigils calls women seeking abortion ‘murderers’. Nor do we follow them.”

In a parliamentary debate earlier this month, Conservative MP Sir Edward Leigh read out a testimony from a woman who changed her mind about having an abortion thanks to the kindness of pro-lifers outside a clinic.

The woman said her three-year-old daughter, “an amazing, perfect little girl”, would not be alive today if MPs seeking to stop the vigils had their way.