Buffer zones will give protection for abortion rights - Lorna Slater

Hospitals are the last places anyone should be made to feel stigmatised, judged or harassed. Yet it has happened to far too many patients at the Chalmers Centre on Lauriston Place.
Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna SlaterMinister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater
Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity, Lorna Slater

For too long they have had to endure a gauntlet of anti-choice protesters with graphic banners and slogans when accessing abortion services.

The organisers know exactly what they are doing and the effect they are having. They know how distressing and upsetting their protests have been, but they have been a regular presence for over five years.

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Some of the protesters stand straight across the road from the main entrance to the building, ensuring that people have no choice but to pass them.

Chalmers is not the only site to have been targeted. In total, 75 per cent of all women in Scotland live in health boards that have seen anti-choice protests outside hospitals over recent years.

There is absolutely no excuse for this kind of intimidation. The protesters are trying to shame people who are often in vulnerable positions and deter them from accessing healthcare.

Last week my Scottish Green colleague, Gillian Mackay MSP, inset, published a members’ bill that will finally end these protests for good.

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The bill will create “buffer zones” to ban anti-choice protests from taking place within 200 metres of the grounds of medical facilities like Chalmers, with a mechanism that will allow for health boards to apply to have that limit extended further if deemed necessary.

There is nothing new about buffer zones. They already exist in countries around the world and have been proven to work.

At heart this is a question of rights. Reproductive rights are human rights, and are at the core of my feminism. As they are for a lot of people. The bill consultation received over 12,000 responses, showing the huge strength of feeling there is on this.

The list of MSPs supporting it underlines the level of unity there is in Parliament, with Gillian receiving the backing of MSPs from all parties, as well as the Scottish Government and the First Minister, Humza Yousaf.

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Getting to this stage has taken a lot of work for Gillian and her team. They have learnt from the awful stories that have been bravely shared by people across the country. It is those deeply personal experiences that have shaped this bill and the approach that she is taking.

Enough is enough. My heart and solidarity is with everyone who has been targeted. Our Parliament has the chance to end the trauma that people in our city and beyond have been made to suffer. We must take it.

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