A councillor has called for buffer zones to “protect” women accessing sexual health services including abortions.
Green Cllr Claire Miller wants measures in the Capital put in place in response to weekly vigils held by a pro-life group outside the Chalmers Centre at Lauriston Place.
Cllr Miller put forward a motion at Monday’s South East Locality Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council to investigate options available to help prevent patients feeling “harassed or intimidated” by the Helper’s of God’s Precious Infants.
Speaking at Monday’s meeting, Cllr Miller said: “I brought this here because I became aware that there were vigils taking place outside clinics across Edinburgh in the south east locality where medical services are being provided to women including terminations.
“One of the reasons this came to my attention was because a counter vigil started outside the Chalmers clinic. While that has got the best of intentions, it starts to create a flash point around the clinic which is basically providing medical services.
“Unfortunately, the protest groups who are protesting against access to abortions design their vigils in such a way that it’s very difficult for the police, without support from any other agency, to rule that those demonstrations are unlawful and move them on.”
Ealing Council in London became the first authority in the UK to use anti-social behaviour laws to create buffer zones outside abortion clinics – using legislation available in England.
Cllr Miller hopes Edinburgh can become the first place to put buffer zones in place north of the border.
Speaking after the meeting, she said: “Patients say that prayer vigils outside clinics are upsetting, distressing and intimidating.
“I strongly believe we need to protect the right to access medical services without any distress or difficulty. It was great to see that Ealing Council has decided to create a buffer zone around a Marie Stopes clinic, and I want Edinburgh to follow suit and create the same level of protection for patients attending our sexual health and pregnancy clinics.
“I was really happy to have the backing of the whole committee for this important step to protect our right to medical services.”
The motion was unanimously backed by the committee, and officers will put together a report on available options.
SNP Cllr Lesley Macinnes said there was a growing “Americanisation” of protests in the UK.
She added: “I think its very important that we look at the potential flash points around this.
“I have great concerns about the safety of both workers and people attending those clinics.”
Conservative Cllr Jo Mowat added: “There are a lot of people who may be going at a very vulnerable time in their lives and also people who are just going for general check-ups.
“We do not want anyone discouraged from going for regular tests or for accessing advice and medical attention at a time which might not be related to termination, but when they really need help.”
The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland labelled the motion “completely unacceptable”.
A spokesman said: “We are aware of a few groups that organise peaceful pro-life vigils outside facilities that perform abortions.
“Scotland has a proud history of respecting freedom of expression and we would hope that Edinburgh City Council continue to respect and protect this basic human right.
“For a local authority to consider introducing ‘censorship zones’ around abortion facilities is completely unacceptable. Such a move by Edinburgh Council would be an attack on freedom of expression.”
David Bol , Local Democracy Reporting Service