The next step for women's rights in Ireland: Buffer Zones

Sister Supporter activists with MP Rupa Huq

Sister Supporter activists with MP Rupa Huq

This blog is one of a series of perspectives written by members of London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign to mark the first anniversary of the Repeal of the Eighth Amendment. Read the rest here.

The day that Ireland voted so overwhelmingly to repeal the 8th amendment to the constitution was, as you probably know if you are reading this, a profoundly moving day. The belief that women* should be able to choose what happens to their own bodies has rarely been so clearly and keenly felt, and for those involved in the campaign, it was a truly joyful experience.

A year on, the legislation that has been enshrined into Irish law is perhaps not everything we had hoped for, but it is a wildly improved situation for many of the women of Ireland.

Harassment and intimidation outside abortion clinics occurs in many countries. I have witnessed first hand, on many, many occasions, the tactics used outside clinics in London. I have seen anti-choicers call service-users “Mum” and “murderer”, advise them that they are in the wrong place for the clinic (leading them to miss their appointment), physically block the clinic entrance, display graphic photos of foetuses, and hand out leaflets containing appalling misinformation - as if the presence of a large group of people outside of an abortion clinic watching you go in while singing hymns and chanting prayers wasn’t intimidation enough.

Image of a leaflet handed out outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in Ealing in 2018

Image of a leaflet handed out outside the Marie Stopes Clinic in Ealing in 2018

Of course, the fear is that these tactics deter women from accessing healthcare when they need it, and will intimidate clinic staff members into leaving their jobs. In particular in Ireland, where these facilities are only just coming into being, the difficulties clinic staff can face when having to run the gauntlet of protestors might be enough to put them off their jobs entirely.

In the UK, councils are able to implement buffer zones outside clinics on a case-by-case basis, by using their powers to enforce Public Space Protection Orders. In Ealing, the first place in the UK to have a buffer zone, the harm-reduction value has been incredible. The Manager of the Ealing Clinic has said that, since the implementation of the Public Space Protection Order, the number of women who describe their harassment in the Clinic incident book has fallen from approximately 12 per week to zero. Anti-choicers are confined to a designated area, some way away from the Clinic, and cannot approach service-users or staff within a 100m radius of the Clinic. The campaign for national legislation is ongoing, since the Home Secretary’s, Sajid Javid’s, decision that creating a law to protect the thousands of women affected by anti-choicers outside hospitals and clinics would not be a “proportionate response”.

Now that legal abortion is being rolled out in Ireland, there is an opportunity to ensure that women are supported throughout the process of deciding whether or not to have a termination. Every woman should have the right to make this decision for themselves and their families, free from interference and in a neutral environment.

What you can do:

In Ireland:

  • Join the Abortion Rights Campaign (https://www.abortionrightscampaign.ie/)

  • If you witness anti-choice intimidation or harassment anywhere, try to limit direct engagement with those involved. There are anecdotal reports of anti-choice groups wearing body cameras and deliberately trying to provoke reactions. Do not engage as doing so may escalate the situation and expose you to allegations or legal action. Instead, call the local Garda station and report the behaviour. Under the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994, you can contact the Gardaí to report any of the following:

    • Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour

    • Display of threatening, abusive, insulting or obscene material

    • Willful obstruction of the free passage of people or vehicles in public spaces

  • Email your TD (https://www.whoismytd.com/) and tell them you want national legislation for buffer zones;

  • Email the Minister for Justice (charles.flanagan@oir.ie) and tell him you want national legislation for buffer zones;

  • Email the Minister for Health (simon.harris@oir.ie) and tell him you want national legislation for buffer zones

In the United Kingdom:

  • Tell your MP (https://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/), the Home Office (public.enquiries@homeoffice.gov.uk), the Secretary of State for Health (matt.hancock.mp@parliament.uk), and the Woman and the Minister for Women and Equalities (penny.mordaunt.mp@parliament.uk) that you want national legislation for buffer zones in the United Kingdom, including in Northern Ireland.

  • Support the BPAS Back-Off Campaign https://back-off.org/.

  • Join Alliance for Choice in Northern Ireland - http://www.alliance4choice.com/

  • Join SisterSupporter in GB - www.sistersupporter.co.uk

  • If you witness anti-choice intimidation or harassment, call 101 and report it, and let Sister Supporter know.


*including Trans and non binary people


Polly Barklem is a member of the London-Irish Abortion Rights Campaign and grassroots organisation Sister Supporter, responsible for the first buffer zone in the United Kingdom.

We’ll be gathering to mark the first year since we Repealed the Eighth Amendment on Saturday May 25th. Join us.

Hannah Little