A Tory MP has described proposed plans to restrict anti-abortion protests as “dangerous”.
MPs have voted to approve the introduction of a bill to ban protests near abortion clinics.
Conservative MP Fiona Bruce suggested the Demonstrations (Abortion Clinics) Bill could have “far-reaching implications”.
She told the Commons on Wednesday: “Let me be clear – I do not condone aggressive protest activities outside abortion clinics, but these are in the minority and imposing national legislation where it is not required to tackle these would be a drastic overreaction.
“A drastic overreaction because of the potential damage this Bill could do to the more widely held freedom of speech in this country.”
Bruce, MP for Congleton, added: “Not only freedom of speech could be threatened, but also freedom of assembly, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of expression, the right to peaceably protest, the right to receive information.
“Fundamental liberties underpinning our democracy and many hard-won. This is a dangerous bill with potentially far-reaching implications.”
A group of cross-party MPs voted 213 to 47 to allow Labour’s Rupa Huq to introduce the bill.
Dr Huq, who is MP for Ealing Central and Acton, said it would help to protect women who attend clinics from intimidation by anti-abortion protesters.
She said: “The demands in this bill are not new and although its title includes the word ‘abortion’, the termination of pregnancy is not at issue here. Not number of weeks or anything of that nature.
“This is about women being able to present themselves for legal healthcare free from intimidation.”
Dr Huq added: “This is not about the rights and wrongs of abortion. While emotions run high and there are sincerely held opinions on both sides of that argument, we have to accept that it’s been legal for 50 years in this country.
“This is about the rights of vulnerable women seeking access to health care in safety, anonymity and dignity.”
A second reading of the bill is scheduled to take place on 11 September, but it has little chance of passing if it does not get government support.