Gillian Mackay unveiled plans for a consultation on the topic following increasing concerns about women's safety
Campaigners in Scotland and across Britain have backed proposals put forward by a Scottish Green Party MSP to designate protest free ‘buffer zones’ outside abortion clinics.
Gillian Mackay, MSP for Central Scotland, launched a consultation on her legislative proposal this week.
Ms Mackay said that intimidation and harassment outside these healthcare facilities must end, and that legislation was the only way to ensure that everyone accessing such facilities could do so without the threat of encountering protests.
The proposals have received widespread support, including from charities, campaigners and politicians from various political parties.
She said: “For too long people wishing to access healthcare where abortions are provided have risked facing intimidation from protestors gathered outside these facilities.
“It is time we ensured that everyone who needs to access abortion services can do so free from intimidation and harassment.
“That’s why I intend to bring forward legislation that would create protest free buffer zones outside these hospitals and clinics.
“Today, I am launching a consultation to hear from the public, particularly from those who have experience of encountering such protests. By sharing their views, those with lived experience can help me develop the most appropriate and robust legislation possible.”
Campaigners have increasingly raised concerns about the impact on women’s health from theose opposing access to abortion services, including the harm from harassment.
Lucy Grieve, co-founder of buffer zones campaign Back Off Scotland, said: “Back Off Scotland are delighted that Gillian Mackay MSP has launched her buffer zone bill.
“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.
“We are very grateful to Gillian for bringing forward this vital legislation and look forward to supporting her as the Bill makes its way through the Scottish Parliament.
“Our work is far from done, however, as the government have not yet committed to backing the bill.
“It’s important that we keep the momentum up on the issue and make sure that our parliament votes in favour of buffer zones and puts an end to this harassment.”
Alice Murray is another co-founder of Back Off Scotland who faced anti-abortion harassment when accessing abortion services at Chalmers St Clinic in Edinburgh.
She told TFN: “I am over the moon that Gillian Mackay MSP’s buffer zone consultation is now open.
“Every day, those seeking abortions are at risk of being harassed by protestors and this is the first step to making sure no person is made to feel the way I did when exercising my right to accessing reproductive healthcare.”
Following the launch, charities supporting women accessing abortions have said that buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland would protect women and healthcare professionals from escalating anti-abortion protests.
Clare Murphy, chief executive of the charity British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) - the UK’s leading abortion care provider - said: “It is appalling that for years, anti-abortion groups have been permitted to harass women trying to access legal healthcare, and the clinicians who are dedicated to providing this essential service.
“Over the last year, we have seen a significant escalation in protest activity both in Scotland and the rest of Great Britain, and it is incredibly disappointing that the respective governments have still not taken any action to protect women and staff.
“Buffer zones around abortion clinics are a simple solution to a growing problem. We strongly support Gillian Mackay’s proposals, and we urge all those who believe that no one should be intimidated while trying to access or provide safe, legal healthcare to make their voices heard by responding to this important consultation.
“At a time when abortion rights are under attack in many other countries, it is vital that the UK is a beacon for women’s reproductive choice. We must end anti-abortion clinic harassment as a matter of urgency.”
The consultation, part of the member’s bill process, is open now for a period of 12 weeks, allowing the public to have their say on Ms Mackay’s proposal and can be accessed online at bufferzones.scot.