The Northern Ireland Assembly bill to impose censorship zones close to abortion facilities has been unexpectedly postponed until 2022.
It is understood that the assembly received thousands of pro-life submissions on the issue, although the Assembly still has to officially confirm the number received. One of the submissions sent to the assembly was from the Pro Life Campaign.
While some Assembly members remain determined to press ahead with introducing censorship zones, there’s reason to hope that the volume of submissions received and the serious legal, human rights and civil libertarian arguments contained therein may have swayed some members to rethink the draconian measure that was on the verge of becoming law.
Meanwhile, the remarks last week in the Seanad by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly are very revealing with regard to the proposed legislation for censorship zones planned in the Republic.
In taking issue with the Sinn Féin sponsored bill to introduce censorship zones, Stephen Donnelly unwittingly made one of the best arguments for why so-called ‘safe access zones’ would be unworkable in practice, in addition to curtailing basic freedoms and the right to assemble peacefully.
Minister Donnelly pointed out in the Seanad that the Sinn Féin bill (which proposes to create 100m censorship zones outside abortion facilities) would mean “that a person could argue that as the State has not confirmed which sites provide such services, that person cannot reasonably be on notice of how he, or she, may be breaching the law, which is a key requirement of criminal law.”
The minister is of course correct on this point as there is no clarity on which facilities perform abortions as the Government doesn’t publish such a list at the request of those carrying out abortions. Just as the pertinent point the minister made applies to the Sinn Féin bill, it also applies to any bill on the issue that the Government plans to bring forward.