A bill criminalizing prayer near abortion centers protested before the Spanish Senate | National Catholic Register

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Several localities have in recent years considered or adopted “buffer zones” around abortion centers that limit freedom of expression in protected areas.

The Platform for the Right to Live in Spain staged a protest on Wednesday outside the country’s Senate against a bill that would criminalize the “harassment” of women entering abortion centers.

The bill was presented in May 2021 by the coalition of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party. It would criminalize “the harassment of women who go to clinics for the voluntary termination of pregnancy”. Anyone promoting, favoring, or participating in protests near abortion centers would face penalties.

Penalties for what would be considered harassment would include prison terms of three months to a year, or community service of 31 to 80 days. Depending on the circumstances, an individual could also be barred from entering a particular location for a period ranging from six months to three years.

The right to life protest took place on April 6 in Madrid’s Plaza de la Marina Española, as the Senate was due to consider the bill.

“We want to remind by our presence, that by voting yes to this amendment to the Penal Code, thousands of mothers will be condemned to the worst decision of their life by depriving them of essential help; and thousands of babies will be condemned to a cruel death. And that blood will stain your hands,” the pro-life platform said in a statement.

In the explanatory memorandum to the bill’s introduction, the PSOE characterized the “harassment” of pro-life witnesses in abortion centers as “approaching women with photographs, model fetuses and proclamations against abortion…the goal is for women to change their decision through coercion, intimidation and harassment.

The Socialist parliamentary group said it “considers it essential to guarantee a safe zone” around abortion centres.

Under the bill, pro-lifers could be sued without the aggrieved person or their legal representative being required to press charges.

The Congress of Deputies voted to consider the bill in September by 199 votes to 144, with two abstentions. Only the two largest opposition parties, the People’s Party and Vox, voted against. The Congress of Deputies passed the bill by a vote of 204 to 144 on February 3.

The People’s Party and Vox have repeatedly expressed their willingness to appeal to the Constitutional Court, stating that the bill violates fundamental rights and public freedoms of assembly, expression and personal beliefs.

Several localities have in recent years considered or adopted “buffer zones” around abortion centers that limit freedom of expression in protected areas.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is considering such a proposal, and the Green Party of Scotland has called for its adoption.

Proposed buffer zones around abortion centers across England and Wales were dismissed as disproportionate by the then UK Home Secretary in September 2018, after finding that most protests against abortion were peaceful and passive.

Typical activities of those protesting outside abortion clinics in England and Wales “include praying, posting banners and distributing leaflets”, noted Sajid Javid.

In England, a buffer zone was imposed by Ealing Council in west London around a Marie Stopes abortion clinic in April 2018. The zone prevents any pro-life gatherings or speeches, including prayer , within 330 feet of the establishment.

The Ealing Buffer Zone was cited by Javid as an example of local government using civil legislation “to restrict harmful protest activity”, rather than national policy.

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