Edinburgh student targeted by pro-life group calls out 'intimidation' as protests start outside clinics

A student who was targeted by an anti-abortion group says she feels ‘sick’ that women could be put off going into clinics this month, as ‘prayer vigils’ start for 40 days.

A Texas based anti-abortion organisation will begin six week ‘prayer vigil’ outside clinics in Edinburgh and across Scotland from Wednesday, September 28.

Alice Murray, who was harassed outside the clinic at Chalmers Street, said she feels sick that women could be put off accessing healthcare by the presence of protesters.

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Ms Murray, Back Off Scotland co-founder, has urged the public to write to their local MSP ahead of a vote on a buffer zones bill – which would see 150 metre protest-free zones around clinics providing abortions and other sexual health services.

Alice Murray experienced harassment outside Chalmers clinic in Edinburgh

She said: “It’s frustrating that today ‘40 days for life’ will start their next round of anti-choice protests and I’m sure it will be upsetting for many people to see.

“We are really hopeful that, with the support from the Scottish Government, this may be the last 40 days for life protest we see outside a clinic in Scotland. Legislation understandably takes time and until buffer zones are in place, we understand that there is little that police or councils can do right now. The next 40 days will likely highlight exactly why we need buffer zones in Scotland.

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“As someone who has experienced anti-choice harassment first hand, I know how scary it can be to enter a clinic and it makes me feel sick that there are many people who may not receive essential health care this month due to the actions of one group. This is an opportunity for members of the public to raise awareness of this issue by writing to their MSPs and engaging with our online campaign to make sure we have full support from those who will vote on the bill.”

Originally launched in Edinburgh two years ago, Back Off Scotland says in the Capital and across Scotland women accessing abortion services continue to face "intimidation and harassment from anti-choice protestors".

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It comes two weeks after the First Minister committed to safeguarding access to abortion services, working with Green MSP Gillian Mackay to in a bid to introduce new legislation after pledging to support her bill.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said those who oppose abortion should do so outside parliament, not hospitals.

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Health board chiefs said they are ‘disappointed’ the planned protests could intimidate staff and women needing support but reassured patients they would do what they could to minimise disruption.

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An NHS spokesperson said: "NHS Lothian wants to reaffirm its commitment to ensuring patients can access all health services whenever they need them. In Lothian, we value and

support our dedicated and specialist teams who work hard to provide person-centred care.

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"Chalmers provides vital sexual health services for a range of patients on matters such as: contraception; sexually transmitted infections; HIV testing, care and prevention;

pregnancy; menopause; and support to victims of sexual assault."

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Shawn Carney, CEO for the American organisation 40 Days for Life, told the Scotsman he would come over to Scotland at a “very strategic” time to legally challenge the zones.

The organisation has been contacted for comment on the planned protests.

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