Abortion clinic buffer zones bill given green light to be brought 'as soon as possible'

Campaigners long-fought bid to keep protesters away from abortion clinics is now a step closer.
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A bill to bring in buffer zones around abortion clinics to protect woman from harassment could be introduced “as soon as possible”.

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay secured the official right to introduce her Safe Access Zones Bill to the Scottish Parliament, declaring it a ‘key milestone’ in the drive to put an end to the harassment and intimidation outside abortion service providers.

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The Bill, which would create a 150 metre buffer zone to stop protests taking place outside hospitals and other medical facilities that provide abortion services, has already received support from a majority of MSPs, including First Minister Humza Yousaf, former First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and the leaders of the Scottish Greens, Scottish Labour and the Scottish Liberal Democrats. Leader of the Scottish Conservatives Douglas Ross didn’t back the proposals.

Chalmers Clinic in Edinburgh has been targeted by protestersChalmers Clinic in Edinburgh has been targeted by protesters
Chalmers Clinic in Edinburgh has been targeted by protesters

Anti-abortion protestors have held ‘vigils’ outside Chalmers Clinic in Edinburgh and other hospitals dating back to 1999, with hospitals and clinics across the country being targeted.

Gillian Mackay MSP said: “I’m delighted that today we’ve received the official right to introduce this legislation. With the backing of four out of five party leaders, including the First Minister, we will now bring the Bill forward as quickly as possible on the return from summer recess.

“It’s time to put an end to the harassment and intimidation we have seen outside abortion service providers, and today is a key milestone in that journey. I want to thank all the organisations, groups and colleagues who have supported this Bill and helped us get to this point.“

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Anti-abortion campaigners say their aim is to support women to make a different choice. Many women, however, have said they felt very uncomfortable about their presence. Protesters often approach patients directly outside clinic entrances and have distributed medically inaccurate leaflets.

One US anti-abortion group operating in Scotland previously vowed to mount a legal challenge if the bill is passed, as expected since it has gained cross-party support as well as Scottish Government backing.

Last year the Supreme Court ruled that legislation setting up similar safe zones in Northern Ireland did not "disproportionately interfere" with protesters' rights. The ruling has paved the way for a similar law being set up in Scotland. Gillian Mackay has praised campaigners Back Off Scotland for their work in pushing for a new law to be introduced.

Back Off Scotland, which was started by Edinburgh university students as Back Off Chalmers, welcomed the news. Co-founder Alice Murray said:

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“I’m over the moon that the bill has gained sufficient parliamentary support and received formal confirmation that it can be lodged. I’m very proud of the work that we [Back Off Scotland] has achieved over the past three years in gaining solid cross-party support for this bill which has been pivotal in receiving this confirmation.

“This is a really positive step and I look forward to seeing an initial draft of the bill soon so we can get this vital piece of legislation passed as soon as possible.”