Pro-life campaigner urges Edinburgh council to reject plea for buffer zones around sexual health clinics aimed at protecting women from intimidation

A pro-life campaigner is urging councillors to reject a 4,800-name petition calling for 150-metre protest-free zones outside clinics providing abortions to protect women from intimidation and harassment.

Sunday, 21st February 2021, 4:12 pm
Updated Monday, 22nd February 2021, 7:52 am
Chalmers Sexual Health Clinic. Picture: Google
Chalmers Sexual Health Clinic. Picture: Google

Paul Atkin, who is the pro-life officer for the St Andrews and Edinburgh RC archdiocese but made his submission to the council as a private citizen, claimed buffer zones would breach human rights including the right of assembly, the right to express political opinion and the right to practice one’s religion.

Edinburgh City Council's policy committee is due to consider the petition from campaign group Back Off Scotland on Tuesday.

It asks the council to call on the Scottish Government to introduce buffer zone legislation. A national petition with the same aim was launched last week.

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Paul Atkin made his submission to the council as a private citizen

Back Off Scotland says anti-choice activity directed at individuals threatens their right to privacy and right to access legal, essential medical services.

It says patients have reported feeling intimidated and that tactics such as praying, rosaries, and medically incorrect leaflets make them feel pressured.

Mr Atkin said: “The claims about alleged harassment consist solely of allegations which are unsupported by plausible, reliable evidence."

But Back Off Scotland co-founder Lucy Grieve said the group was not looking to encroach on freedom of speech or people’s right to protest.

Alice Murray says she felt intimidated when she attended the Chalmers clinic

“We just want to eradicate barriers to healthcare,” she said.

“Our campaign is fronted by two university students, Alice Murray and Lily Roberts, who faced this intimidation first-hand when seeking abortion services. To state that their experiences have ‘no credibility’ is wrong.

“Seeking an abortion is a personal healthcare matter. Just because Police Scotland are not being contacted about the protesters does not mean that they are not causing intimidation and harassment.”

Alice Murray said: “I attended the [Chalmers] clinic alone, meaning my only point of contact was the protestors. They made me feel isolated and my safety questioned. There were multiple protesters there on a small pavement with placards and posters, their presence was very intimidating.

"This experience can prevent users from accessing fundamental sexual health care. The implementation of buffer zones would prevent this.”

The law in Scotland, England and Wales makes it legal to have an abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy.

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