Abortion clinic buffer zones to start from Friday

Exclusion zones set up to block anti-abortion protests outside health clinics in Northern Ireland will be introduced on Friday.

The “safe access zones,” will be in areas across the five health trusts.

Legislation to set up the zones at clinics where abortions are carried out was passed at Stormont last year.

The Department of Health said they are to “protect women and girls accessing abortion services, information, advice and counselling, and protect staff”.

It will be illegal for people to be “impeded, recorded, influenced or to be caused harassment, alarm or distress” within the designated areas.

Under the law safe-access zones can be established in the vicinity of health-care premises providing lawful abortions, as well as at premises where information, advice or counselling about abortion services are provided.

The department said the zones will include the protected premises where these services are provided, as well as adjoining public space between 100m and 250m from entrances or exits of the protected premises.

The zones will only apply to designated public space areas below and do not apply to private properties.

Public signage will highlight the legal requirements at each zone.

Locations for the protected premises are:

  • Southern Trust – Craigavon Area Hospital
  • Southern Trust – Daisy Hill Hospital
  • Belfast Trust – College Street
  • Belfast Trust – Bradbury Wellbeing and Treatment Centre
  • Northern Trust – Causeway Hospital
  • Western Trust – Altnagelvin Hospital
  • South Eastern Trust – Lagan Valley Hospital
  • South Eastern Trust – Ulster Hospital

Under the law, harassing, obstructing or interfering with someone attending an abortion clinic will be a criminal offence.

In May the PSNI said enforcement was a last resort to be used when necessary.

The legislation enabling their establishment is the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act (Northern Ireland) 2023.

Former assembly member Clare Bailey developed the bill to set up so-called safe access zones outside clinics where abortions are carried out.

It was delayed from becoming law after the attorney general intervened.

However, in December 2022 the Supreme Court ruled that the bill did not “disproportionately interfere” with protesters’ rights.

In 2019 MPs passed legislation to decriminalise terminations during an absence in devolution.


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