Two Tory councillors have come under fire following a failed attempt to draft in a pro-life group to discussions about protecting women accessing medical services.
Green Councillor Claire Miller previously proposed buffer zones be introduced between people attending medical appointments and protesters holding “vigils” outside the Chalmers Centre at Lauriston Place.
Conservative Cllr Cameron Rose, backed by his party colleague Cllr Nick Cook, wanted Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) to be involved in discussions. But the council’s south-east locality committee, including Conservative members Cllr Joanna Mowat and Cllr Stephanie Smith, blocked his motion.
Cllr Rose said: “What we are looking to do is get a balance between the rights of freedom of speech and the rights to protect those who are using the facilities that we are referring to here. I’m conscious that it has been suggested that the community improvement partnership will include council, NHS, police and representation from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
“If they are to be added, I think it is important we have somebody from the pro-life groups who are demonstrating in the two locations. It would be appropriate in those circumstances that there would be somebody from perhaps the Catholic Church or I would recommend SPUC.”
But Cllr Miller hit out at the Conservative proposal, believing it would go against the purpose of the buffer zones.
She said: “BPAS is a medical services provider. It is not a campaigning organisation.
“They needed to protect the safety of the patients who were accessing their services. There are so many so-called vigils outside clinics that they are being called upon by clinic providers and people who are protecting women’s rights, to carry out research in Scotland. The reason that I have brought this here is simply to protect service users.”
Committee convener Cllr Mandy Watt called for the protesters to move elsewhere.
She said: “Why do they choose to pressurise women who are already facing an incredibly difficult time? That’s not a right to exercise free speech responsibly, in my opinion. I don’t think the amendment is helpful unless they are going to show up and volunteer to make life a bit easier by protesting somewhere else.”
SPUC has hit out at Cllr Miller and called on the committee to reconsider its position.
An SPUC spokesman said: “The proceedings and outcome of the meeting at Edinburgh City Council should ring alarm bells for anyone who cares about democracy and freedom.
“The majority of councillors seemed to ignore the reality of the situation of what is going on at the peaceful pro-life gatherings in Edinburgh. Claire Miller has been able to use her public office to wage a campaign against those she disagrees with.”