The Government has rejected calls for buffer zones to be introduced outside abortion clinics across England and Wales.
Introducing protest-free areas outside clinics “would not be a proportionate response”, Home Secretary Sajid Javid said.
According to the Press Association news agency, while a Home Office review found examples of harassment and damaging behaviour, such as the handing out of model foetuses, displaying graphic images and blocking patients’ paths, these activities were not the norm, he added.
He said: “Having considered the evidence of the review, I have therefore reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature.”
The main activities reported as having taken place during protests included praying, displaying banners and handing out leaflets.
The Home Secretary acknowledged all anti-abortion activities, passive or otherwise, can have an adverse effect and he expressed his sympathies to women impacted.
Some 36 hospitals and clinics in England and Wales reported demonstrations outside their facilities. Of these, a small number reported aggressive activity, the Home Office said.
Earlier this year, a Public Space Protection Order was introduced by Ealing Council outside a Marie Stopes clinic.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the move was “shocking failure to protect women from harassment and intimidation when exercising their right to choose”.
However, Antonia Tully, director of campaigns at the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC), the world’s oldest abortion opposition group, said they were “delighted” by the decision.
She said: “This is a massive victory for common sense, democracy and above all for the hundreds of vulnerable women who are saved from the horror of abortion at the very gates of the abortion clinic.”
Mother Alina Dulgheriu thanked Mr Javid, and said the moment she was supported outside an abortion centre was the “first time I felt I had a choice”.
She said: “If it weren’t for the real practical and emotional support that I was given by them, my daughter would not be here today. ‘Buffer zones’ would only limit the choices available to mothers in my position.
“Inside an abortion clinic the only thing they offer is abortion but these women can offer so much more; counselling, financial assistance, help with food, baby clothes and rent among many other things.”