We need buffer zones to protect women’s rights - Lorna Slater

The US Supreme Court decision to overturn the Roe vs Wade judgement and curb abortion rights was a disgraceful attack on women.

Lorna Slater, Green MSP
Lorna Slater, Green MSP

It was a major step back and will see more people being put in danger and some being forced to risk their health rather than having safe access to abortion services.

The decision follows years of incremental attacks on bodily autonomy and the right to choose. It will give state legislators the ability to undermine and curtail the right to reproductive services. It will have a devastating impact while empowering anti-choice activists around the world.

We must stand in support and solidarity with everyone in the US who is having their rights removed. At the same time we must also ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect and enhance the rights of people using reproductive healthcare here and around the world.

A key part of that work is ensuring that the services that we are responsible for are safe, secure and accessible for all.

It means ending the appalling anti-choice campaigning we have seen outside abortion services here in our city and across Scotland. Nobody should be intimidated or abused when accessing healthcare.

Last Monday, the First Minister convened a vitally important summit in Edinburgh. It brought together MSPs, healthcare providers, pro-choice campaign groups and other stakeholders to discuss the issue of 'buffer zones' to stop the protests.

The summit may have been organised well in advance, but it was happening in the shadow of the Supreme Court decision.

It was addressed by my Green colleague Gillian Mackay, who is moving a much-needed Members Bill that, if successful, will create 150 metre zones in which campaigners are banned.

I am very glad that Gillian's Bill is being supported by the Scottish Government. Polls show that it is also supported by the vast majority of people in Scotland, with 82% of people backing them. It is also supported by many medical professionals and has been endorsed by the Scottish section of the British Medical Association.

Buffer zones are not new. They have already been established in Canada, Australia and some parts of England. Legislation has recently been passed in Northern Ireland too. They are a tried, tested, simple and effective step. Where they have been introduced, they have provided welcome protections and reassurances.

It is shocking that such a bill is necessary in the first place. It is infuriating that so many people have had to endure such intimidation for so long. At present, 70% of women of reproductive age in Scotland live in a health board area that has had hospitals or clinics targeted by anti-choice groups in the past five years.

The stories of intimidation and harassment are heartbreaking. Many of the protesters have brandished abusive placards and knowingly caused a great deal of upset and distress. The protests outside the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow have been particularly horrific, with campaigners only a few feet away from the people they are shouting at.

There can be absolutely no justification for this kind of intimidation. That is why I hope that our Parliament sends a message by uniting around Gillian's Bill and ending it for good.

The consultation on Gillian's Bill will run until August 11th. Please take the time to share your views via Bufferzones.scot and encourage others to do the same. With your help we can ensure that the legislation she introduces is as robust as possible.

Lorna Slater is a Lothian Green MSP and Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity