The student-ran campaign group aims to ensure protest-free zones outside abortion clinics and hospitals will become a legal requirement.
University of Glasgow students are setting up a Glasgow branch of “Back Off Scotland”, a campaign group that aims to put pressure on the Scottish government to ensure that 150-metre protest-free zones will become mandatory outside clinics that provide abortions.
Back Off Scotland is a grassroots campaign group founded in October 2020 by University of Edinburgh students. It believes that anti-choice activity should not threaten “the right to privacy, and the right to access legal, essential medical services” and that “everyone deserves access to sexual and reproductive healthcare free from judgment, fear, shame, and coercion”.
Back Off Scotland is proposing legislation that would lead to the creation of 150-metre buffer zones. This would provide a clear entrance and exit for those seeking abortion services and leave them free from intimidation and protest where filming and harassment are prohibited.
Buffer zones have been successfully introduced and enforced in British Columbia and Ontario in Canada. They protect healthcare workers who are harassed for providing services. Vitally, they protect people seeking an abortion, a highly considered and stigmatised decision, and provide anonymity and safe spaces free from harassment.
Co-founder Lucy Grieve commented: “Whilst our end goal is to legislate for 150-metre buffer zones around clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services in Scotland, it is important to stress that the campaign doesn’t look to de-platform any organisation. We believe in freedom of speech and freedom to protest but not in a context that creates barriers in accessing healthcare.”
University of Glasgow student and Back Off Scotland volunteer Lily Roberts described her own run-in with pro-life protestors: “Having experienced protestors personally at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital when seeking an abortion in my first year at Glasgow, the reality of the dire state of protections currently in place against this form of harassment became startlingly clear to me. I went into hospital first thing in the morning and was faced with a group of protestors holding up placards. They remained there seven hours later when I left the clinic. My privacy and safety felt threatened. These protests create the illusion that accessing abortion services is a controversial topic – I can’t stress enough that these protests are a misleading minority. In reality, the discourse around abortion is positive – the Back Off campaign is a vital part of the supportive community who want to help prevent intimidation and harassment faced by people accessing healthcare services and the staff who work in targeted clinics. By signing the petition and showing your support you will be ensuring that people feel safe.”
Lily, alongside Georgia Harding, a fellow University of Glasgow student, is launching the Glasgow branch of the national campaign, “Back Off”, which aims to create legislation for safe buffer zones around abortion services. It is essential to note that the campaign does not contest the right to protest, however, it addresses the forum in which these protests are created.
Protests have been recorded to affect 49 clinics and hospitals in the UK within the last two years, with pro-life campaigners reportedly filming, harassing and shouting at patients as they enter medical facilities. The Chalmers Centre in Edinburgh has described the groups’ presence outside their facilities: “They were chanting, praying loudly, showing photos of foetuses, giving out leaflets, and approaching women and couples entering the clinic.”
A religious link exists with a number of pro-life groups, for example, “40 Days of Life”, an anti-choice group that originated in Texas also has had a small presence in Scotland since 2014. They organise two 40-day periods of protest, the first during Lent and then another later in the year. These events constitute standing outside clinics such as Chalmers in Edinburgh, and Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow, with anti-abortion posters and leaflets, with a continued presence from 7am-7pm over the full 40 days. The QEUH had the largest anti-choice protest in UK history in autumn 2018 with 200 people holding a vigil surrounding the entrance.
A link to the online petition can be found on the Back Off Scotland Facebook page.