Draconian "abortion zones" bill delayed because it interferes with Human Rights of pro-life people

Precious Life welcome an intervention by the NI Attorney General that has delayed from becoming law, a bill to ban pro-life vigils outside abortion centres in Northern Ireland.

Pro-abortion Green Party Leader Clare Bailey introduced the bill in the previous Assembly which would set up so-called "safe access" zones at centres where abortions are carried out. It was voted through the Assembly in March. Clare Bailey lost her seat in the election to the New Assembly on 5th May

NI's Attorney General has now intervened and the UK Supreme Court is involved. Dame Brenda King has asked the court to determine whether part of the bill is within the "legislative competence" of the Stormont Assembly.

Precious Life spokesperson Bernadette Smyth said, "The referral of this illegal bill to the Supreme Court is good news for all who support human rights, especially the right to life.

"This draconian bill to criminalise women and men who pray outside abortion centres must be scrapped completely. Precious Life’s legal team were already working on a court case to challenge this blatant breach of human rights. It denies people their fundamental human rights to freedom of assembly and freedom of expression – both protected under Articles 10 and 11 of the Human Rights Act. It also breaks one of the of the key principles of the Good Friday Agreement, which is to uphold the right to expression of religion. And the fact that a Belfast Health Trust admitted manipulating the number of alleged ‘incidents’ at pro-life vigils outside abortion centres, and then presented these false figures to the NI Assembly, should be reason enough to have this bill torn up and thrown in the bin where it belongs.

“This bill has nothing to do with safe access to health services. These abortion zones will only apply outside the baby-killing centres, and will specifically target any person who stands anywhere within 150 metres of a centre, whether they be holding a sign, handing out information leaflets, offering help to a women, or even silently praying. The terms of the legislation are so broad and sweeping, that any innocent person who acts in any way that might ‘influence’ a woman to keep her baby, will be charged with committing a crime and face fines of up to £2500.”

The Attorney General's concerns relate to the omission of what is known as the "reasonable excuse" defence from the legislation. In a statement, the attorney general's office said it had to be determined whether offences created by the bill were a "proportionate interference with the rights” of those who wish to express opposition to abortion in Northern Ireland.

Although passed by the Assembly in March, the bill cannot become law if the Supreme Court determines the part of the bill in question is illegal.

'Reasonable excuse'
During the debate on the bill in March, TUV leader Jim Allister pointed out the legal inconsistency of the bill not allowing for a "reasonable excuse" within the legislation.

He told the Assembly: "It is overwhelmingly the case that our law provides reasonable excuse for someone accused."

However, pro-abortion Parties voted against allowing an accused person in court to use the defence of a “reasonable excuse”.

Mrs Smyth added, “The whole basis of our legal system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. But to Alliance, SDLP and Sinn Fein, being pro-life means your guilty – full stop! Not only do they want to criminalise pro-life people, they also want to remove all legal defence that would prove their innocence.”

The bill was opposed by the DUP and TUV. Jim Allister also said the bill was unnecessary with existing public order laws. He said it would create a “very sweeping” and “absolutist” office that would be “totalitarian” in nature. DUP MLA Pam Cameron said that legal concerns remain “unaddressed” and the bill “will almost certainly result in protracted legal action.”

A date for the Supreme Court hearing on the legality of the bill has not been announced yet.

Bernadette Smyth concluded, “This development is at an early stage and may take many months to resolve. But Precious Life’s peaceful vigils in Northern Ireland will continue offering help and life-affirming alternatives to women outside these centres of death. We will never stop actively protecting unborn babies — when and wherever their lives are in danger of abortion.”

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