Gillian Mackay launches 'essential' buffer zones bill to target abortion protests outside hospitals
A Green MSP has launched a private member’s Bill to implement anti-abortion buffer zones outside hospitals and clinics across Scotland to “protect women from harassment”.
The Bill put forward by Gillian Mackay proposes to implement a 150m protest buffer zone outside hospitals and clinics following a recent rise in anti-abortion protests.
It it hoped the Bill will help people access healthcare in peace, according to Ms Mackay.
A consultation has been launched and people will be able to fill out a form on what they think of the Bill via the Scottish Parliament Website or at bufferzones.scot.
In recent days, the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital and the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow have both seen a rise in protests, with attendees holding signs such as “Abortion is Murder”.
Women’s groups, doctors and MSPs such as Labour’s Monica Lennon said the protests were a means of “harassing” women to the point they cannot access healthcare.
However, anti-abortion groups such as 40 Days for Life and SPUC claim such protests are “peaceful vigils” which give women an “alternative option”.
During the launch of the Bill, Ms Mackay said: “For too long, this [intimidation and harassment] has been going on. We’ve seen the frequency and scale of these protests increasing over recent years and last week the escalation at the Sandyford Clinic as well, so I think it’s essential that we make sure this Bill comes forward quickly.”
The Scottish Government is yet to support the Bill, but Ms Mackay said she hoped this would be “forthcoming soon”.
Ms Mackay said: “We are committed, along with Back Off Scotland and BPAS who are helping us support the legislation, to bring it forward as quickly as we possibly can.”
Elsewhere, Northern Ireland’s attorney general has asked the Supreme Court to consider whether a Bill implementing buffer zones is in “proportionate interference” with the rights of those who express opposition to abortion services.
Ms Mackay said: “There are complexities that we will need to navigate, but that’s one of the things we will have to resolve in the next few weeks as we go through the legislative process.
"We are not limiting the right to protest. We are just making it in a place to ensure everyone can access their legal rights appropriately.
"I’m very confident that we can produce something that’s robust that will withstand the legal challenges.”
There have been calls for women’s health minister Maree Todd to resign due what groups such as pro-choice group Back Off Scotland have called “a lack of action” over the zones.
However, Ms Mackay said the minister’s resignation “would not be helpful”, adding: “I think she’s engaged constructively during this process.”
Ms Mackay said she would support action taken by councils to enact by-laws “to protect women from harassment” despite Cosla legal counsel stating bylaws on the zones would be unlawful.
The MSP said the “easiest way forward” was introducing the Bill, covering zones on a national level.
Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland, which has long called for zones, said: "Anti-abortion harassment causes real, tangible threats to accessing healthcare services here in Scotland, and it has been allowed to go on unchallenged for too long.”