Monica Lennon and women's groups call for Nicola Sturgeon to lead 'emergency summit' on abortion rights

A letter to Nicola Sturgeon has claimed access to women’s healthcare in the face of anti-abortion protests has reached a “critical point” as it calls on the First Minister figure to hold an “emergency summit”.

Wednesday, 11th May 2022, 6:21 pm

The letter, with lead signatory Labour MSP Monica Lennon, outlines a “surge in targeted harassment”, which it claims is causing women across Scotland “great distress”.

The document, seen exclusively by The Scotsman, calls on Ms Sturgeon to convene an “emergency summit” to allow MSPs, abortion rights groups, healthcare staff and the women directly affected to get “around the table” and talk about “what they are being faced with when seeking to access legal, essential healthcare”.

The letter has 15 signatories, with groups such as Back Off Scotland, Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and Welfare Scotland included as signatories.

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More than 100 anti-abortion protesters have gathered outside Scotland’s largest hospital, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, and 76 consultants wrote to women’s health minister Maree Todd in the past month calling for anti-abortion protest buffer zones to be introduced.

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Ms Lennon said: "The anti-abortion protesters targeting healthcare facilities are having a terrible impact on women and I think it's important that they are confronted with that reality.

“The Scottish Government’s failure to take swift action is only emboldening the protesters, and gatherings are getting bigger and more frequent.

Anti-abortion protesters outside the Sandyford Clinic on Wednesday (Photo: Provided by Back Off Scotland).

“There is now an urgent need for the Scottish Government to set up buffer zones through national legislation, because we need harassment-free and safe access to abortion healthcare in Scotland.”

Buffer zones have yet to be implemented in Scotland, despite backing for such action within the SNP’s manifesto and the Programme for Government.

The letter states: “We are writing to you to convey our concerns over abortion rights in Scotland and are calling on you to convene an emergency summit, to show strong leadership on the reproductive health and rights of women in Scotland.

“Lack of political action leaves abortion providers feeling that they do not have the support to provide the care women need, and leads to poor healthcare experiences for women in desperate need of care.”

Anti-abortion protests continue in Scotland and on Wednesday, protesters held signs saying “abortion is murder” outside the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow.

Within the letter, an account of a women who had an abortion for medical reasons is given.

The woman states she was “haunted by an image from a poster” after she had to pass an anti-choice protest following her abortion.

The letter also highlights “a lack of urgency” over telemedical abortion permanent provisions, allowing women to conduct virtual consultations with medics from their home and then be prescribed with appropriate pills. Permanent provisions have been implemented elsewhere in the UK such as England and Wales.

Over the weekend, SNP MSP for Shettleston, John Mason, said some abortion providers in Scotland were “pushing abortion without laying out the pros and cons”.

Ms Todd said in a statement: “There is no place in our society for the harassment, abuse and intimidation of women and girls accessing healthcare services.

“The Scottish Government supports the introduction of buffer zones. We have established a working group including partners like Police Scotland, Cosla, NHS boards and local authorities to ensure any measures taken can withstand legal challenge.”