Abortion Facility ‘Buffer Zone’ Bill to Become Law in Northern Ireland

Right To Life UK has said a public consultation on the bill showed that it was supported by only 13 out of 6,412 respondents.

Members of the group ‘Our Lady of Lourdes Protectors’ hold a prayer vigil outside the national maternity hospital in Dublin, Ireland on July 13, 2019.
Members of the group ‘Our Lady of Lourdes Protectors’ hold a prayer vigil outside the national maternity hospital in Dublin, Ireland on July 13, 2019. (photo: Damien Storan / Shutterstock)

BELFAST — An abortion facility “buffer zone” bill was passed by members the Northern Ireland Assembly on Thursday.

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill makes it a criminal offense for pro-lifers to engage in “influencing” women inside “safe access zones” around premises offering abortions. 

The bill was passed at its Final Stage on March 24. It now awaits Royal Assent, at which point it will become law.

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for Right To Life UK, said on Thursday: “The result of today’s vote is disappointing, not least because it is so blatantly contrary to what the Northern Ireland public wants.”

“What is most saddening about this outcome is the impact it will have on women who are unsure, or worse, being pressured into having an abortion, denying them the ability to access help from peaceful pro-life volunteers when they need it most.”

Right To Life UK has said a public consultation on the bill showed that it was supported by only 13 out of 6,412 respondents.

The “buffer zone” bill was introduced by Green Party leader Clare Bailey on Sept. 13, 2021. Supporters of the bill were filmed cheering after the final vote. 

The Abortion (Northern Ireland) Regulations 2020 allow elective abortions up to 12 weeks of pregnancy; abortions up to 24 weeks in cases of risk to the mother’s physical or mental health; and abortion without time limit in cases of severe fetal impairment or fetal abnormality.

Previously, abortion was legally permitted in the region only if the mother’s life was at risk or if there was risk of long-term or permanent, serious damage to her mental or physical health.

Catholic bishops decried the regulations, approved by the British Parliament in London, as “an unjust law” imposed “without the consent of the people of Northern Ireland.”

In the lead-up to Tuesday’s vote, a woman who received help outside an abortion facility 11 years ago asked assembly members to sign a Petition of Concern.

As of March 22, Alina Dulgheriu had received 29 signatures on her petition, just one signature shy of preventing the bill from progressing further.

According to Right to Life UK, in the petition, Dulgheriu shared her own story of being approached by a volunteer outside an abortion facility who offered her the help she needed to feel able to choose life for her unborn daughter.

“Eleven years ago, I was single, abandoned, facing unemployment, and terrified when I discovered I was pregnant,” Dulgheriu said. The “buffer zone” bill claims to be “‘protecting’ women who find themselves in my situation. The funny thing is, the voices of women like me rarely get a chance to be heard in relation to  what would actually help us. If the politicians at Stormont asked us if this legislation would actually help us, I think they would be very surprised at our answer.”

“That bill, designed to prevent us from hearing about offers of support to continue our pregnancies, will shut down options open to women who find themselves in crisis,” she continued. “Such legislation would have been detrimental to the course of my life.” 

Catherine Robinson of Right To Life UK said: “It is under the pretence of liberty and choice that women are being stripped of the ability to access support provided by peaceful pro-life volunteers.”

“Countless women, such as Alina, have found the help and support they needed when kindly approached outside an abortion facility. This law change will prevent these women from having access to this vital support provided by peaceful pro-life volunteers.”

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