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Ensuring everyone has the right to unimpeded healthcare

This opinion piece is about 2 years old

Buffer zones bill would keep anti-abortion protests away from hospitals

Nobody should be intimidated or abused while they access healthcare, yet far too many people in Scotland have had to endure a gauntlet of graphic images and condemnation from protesters while accessing abortion services. 

Last week I was proud to launch a consultation for the members bill that I am introducing to stop these protests and ‘vigils’ by establishing 150m buffer zones outside sexual health clinics and medical facilities that provide abortions.

These protests are a long-term problem, but their frequency and intensity are increasing. 70% of women of reproductive age live in a health board area that has had hospitals or clinics targeted by anti-choice groups in the past five years.

Last month, over 100 anti-choice protesters lined the street outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, with many brandishing abusive placards and causing upset, intimidation and distress.

Clinicians have told me about the severe impact these protests have had on patients. This includes people accessing abortions, but also people accessing rape counselling, sexual health services and other healthcare services that share the same campus. 

Buffer zones are not a new idea. They have already been established in Canada, Australia and some parts of England. Where they have been introduced, they have provided welcome protections and reassurance.

The campaign group Back Off Scotland has collated and shared accounts they have received from service users and medical staff about the impact these protests have had on them. 

One woman said that she felt “haunted” by an image from one of the posters being used by protesters, another said that five years later she still felt trauma because of them. Their accounts are heart-breaking, and my bill aims to ensure that nobody else is ever made to feel that way again. 

That is why it is important that this is an area that parliament leads on rather than leaving it to councils. Everyone should have the same right to unimpeded healthcare, regardless of where in the country they are accessing it. What we can’t have is a postcode lottery where safe access to abortion services can be guaranteed in some parts of the country but not others. 

It is a vital change that I am determined that we secure, but it is also shameful and regrettable that a bill like this is needed in the first place. It is infuriating that so many people have had to endure abuse and intimidation for so long.

Abortion rights are human rights. Access to healthcare is a right, and nobody should ever be discouraged from attending appointments or be made to navigate ugly banners or have their privacy invaded to access it.

These rights were hard-fought for, and it is vital that we don’t take a backward step. The recent moves to undermine Roe vs Wade in the US show how fragile progress can be and emphasise the importance of protecting it.

The consultation on my bill will run until the 6th of August. Please take the time to share your views and help us to ensure that the legislation is as robust as possible.

You can find out more about the bill and fill in the consultation at

Gillian Mackay MSP is a Scottish Greens member of the Scottish Parliament for Central Scotland.