Competing human rights must be balanced in the enforcement of proposed safe access areas around abortion clinics in Northern Ireland, a senior police officer has said.
Green Party legislator Claire Bailey proposed the legislation, describing external features to a “campaign of harassment and intimidation” by anti-abortion campaigners as having “increased” in recent months.
Northern Ireland’s restrictive abortion laws were liberalized in 2019, but the provision of services has yet to be fully implemented across the region amid political controversy over the highly sensitive issue.
Ms. Bailey’s Private Member Bill is currently being examined by the Stormont Health Committee.
Committee chairman Colm Gildernew said Canada, parts of Australia and the United States have similar laws, while Ireland is considering proposals.
Chief Superintendent Melanie Jones told the committee that most incidents involved display of graphic images, handing out leaflets, aggressive borderline tactics to try to influence people around the likes.
She said that there was “obnoxious name-calling, accusing behaviour”, there was “a lot of confrontation and getting into people’s personal space” and a reluctance to back down.
Chief Supt Jones said she would advise “careful consideration of competing human rights in sport”.
She said the right to respect private and family life would apply to clinic staff and those accessing services, while protestors could debate the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion as well as freedom of expression and assembly. Huh.
The official said she can see potential loopholes in the law, including that it may be too difficult to address the lack of knowledge by protesters that, given the extension of safe zones, enforcement is possible only against repeat offenders. .
He told the MLAs, “This means that the activity of their being there will have to be tolerated for some time, which may have an adverse effect on the people who were going there either for treatment or to work there.” “
He also observed that within the enforcement section, there is no need for those removed from the safe zone to provide their personal details to the police.
“It provides a difficulty if people were to re-enter that safe zone and continue in the same conduct … unless there were the same officers at the same place and time,” she said.
Chief Supert Jones also raised resource implications for the police.
“Protests of this nature can be frequent and spontaneous and be prolonged, and effective policing will probably require constant police presence for the duration of any such activity to ensure that we have surveillance and Evidence must be gathered, so as to prevent breach of peace, and also to provide assurance for those working and accessing services,” she said.
He also said that he thinks it would be foolish to think that the enforcement of the law would not be subject to legal challenge.
DUP legislator Pam Cameron asked how many police hours the law would require.
Chief Supert Jones said this would increase demand for policing, but it is difficult to know how many campuses will need a safe zone.
She suggested that most protest gatherings are “fairly compliant” and enforcement may fall to the street warden or other statutory resources.
Sinn Féin legislator Carol née Chuilin expressed concern that anyone accessing the services would “almost need to complain” that they feel nervous about enforcement.
She said she has spoken to women who have gone through abortions and been called murderers and shown graphic images while accessing fertility services, and described the experience as “horrifying.”
Ms. Bailey also testified at a subsequent meeting of the committee.
She said women’s right to health is not being supported at this time, adding her bill aims to ensure safe access to health care. – PA