The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act was one of the last bills passed by MPs just before the Northern Ireland Assembly was dissolved at the end of March 2022, Irish Legal News reports.
In May 2022, the law was referred to the U.K. Supreme Court by the Attorney General for Northern Ireland after concerns were raised that it constituted a disproportionate interference with the rights of demonstrators under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).
However, in December the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that restricting where abortion protests can take place is a proportionate restriction on ECHR rights because “freedom of speech does not include a right to a captive audience.”
The provisions of the Act will take effect on May 7, 2023.
Mal O’Hara, Belfast City Council member and leader of the Green Party of Northern Ireland, said, “I want to commend Clare Bailey and her team for making this law a reality. I would also like to pay tribute to the grassroots activists who have campaigned for this bill for many years.”
“This means that the deliberate campaign of intimidation and harassment of women and people who need access to abortion services will end. I look forward to people being able to access abortion and reproductive health services legally, locally, and safely.”
According to the Alliance Defending Freedom, “the Bill intends to criminalize anyone committing an offending act with up to 2 years imprisonment. This is an extreme and unjustifiable sanction for what could be silent, peaceful, and everyday expression in public spaces. The prevention of the free assembly of citizens and the exchange of information on all areas of public land surrounding abortion facilities is a severe threat to democracy and imposes an unusually low criminal threshold.”