Harmful free speech

The case for safe access zones

Sir, – Trevor Troy (Letters, August 4th) takes issue with the Government’s plans to introduce legislation to prevent groups of protesters assembling within 100m of facilities offering abortion services. He does this on the grounds that the legislation will be a limit on people’s right to “freedom of association and freedom of speech”.

While he concedes that some of this free speech will be “upsetting and harmful” to women entering such facilities, he nevertheless argues that it should be allowed, based on an assertion that this precise type of free speech needs to be protected.

Given that many of these facilities are also treating patients that do not attend for an abortion and are often accompanied by young children, protest groups cannot and should not be allowed.

Anyone familiar with the nature of protests outside abortion clinics, here and abroad, will know that women attending are often harassed and intimidated by loud chanting, abusive words and imagery that is often shocking.

Removing these groups to a distance of 100m does not limit their freedom to continue this behaviour, it merely reduces it to an acceptable level of odiousness.

That this behaviour is targeted at women who may be struggling with serious mental and medical crises, speaks for itself. – Yours, etc,