Credit: Back Off Scotland

Moves towards buffer zones in Scotland following anti-abortion protests

By Kimberley Mannion

The Glasgow Guardian speaks to students on both sides of the abortion debate on controversy surrounding recent protests.

Content warning: Discussion of abortion 

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has committed to reviewing legislation over buffer zones, which would prohibit anti-abortion campaigners from demonstrating outside healthcare centres.

Pro-choice group Back Off Scotland, founded by students at the University of Edinburgh, met with Sturgeon on Monday 27 June as the debate continues in the Scottish Parliament over how best to tackle the issue of anti-abortion campaigners causing women accessing healthcare to feel intimidated.

Speaking at the meeting with Back Off, the First Minister said: “We wouldn’t tolerate this if it was about access to any other kind of healthcare”.

The most recent chapter in the debate over buffer zones began on Sunday 10 April, as over 100 demonstrators gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow to protest the right to abortion.

Following this, doctors at the Queen Elizabeth signed a letter to Scottish Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd condemning recent anti-abortion protests outside the facility as harassment. 

The protests were organised by the group 40 Days for Life, which was founded in Texas in 2004 and describes itself as “the world’s largest grassroots movement to end abortion”.

The letter, drafted by Back Off, calls the protests intimidating and intentional of restricting women’s access to healthcare.

In the weeks and months which followed, a number of small protests have taken place outside Sandyford sexual health clinic, near the University of Glasgow.

A handful of men have been positioning themselves outside the centre, which offers a range of sexual and reproductive health services including rape crisis support, holding placards reading “abortion is murder, thou shalt not murder.” 

Video footage shows the demonstrators outside Sandyford shouting in the direction of people going in to use the clinic various insults and calling abortion “murder of innocent babies”.

Police attend the scene but cannot move the group on since what they are doing is currently within the law, despite patients reportedly being distressed and clinicians unable to consult on the side of the building due to the noise of the shouting. 

Activism on the topic exists at Glasgow University. A small group of anti-abortion demonstrators gathered on University Avenue at the beginning of the year, holding a board with images of a foetus at various stages of development to protest abortion.

Leaflets were also distributed around campus from the Centre for Bio-Ethical Reform UK intending to prompt discussion on the topic of abortion, again with images of prenatal development and statistics on the number of abortions carried out in the UK. 

The leaflet features a quote from William Wilberforce in 1791 saying: “you can choose to look the other way, but you can never again say you did not know”.

The on campus group Glasgow Students for Life (GSL), told The Glasgow Guardian: “GSL are absolutely pro the bodily autonomy of every single human person, who has the right to do what they wish with their body. 

“However if, scientifically, a pregnancy includes the body of a fetus within the body of a woman, then an abortion cannot be considered a woman’s choice which is inconsequential to anyone else, but rather her choice to have an abortion removes the bodily autonomy and choice of another human being, denying them of their basic right to life.”

Commenting specifically on the recent protests and subsequent letter from doctors, GSL said: “we would ask why people coming from a ‘pro choice’ stance are against women choosing to approach pro-life vigils for help? 40 Days For Life has and continues to provide various means of support for women and families who choose to approach their vigils. If this is a woman’s choice to seek out this support through her own free will, then we cannot understand why doctors would be against this.”

The Glasgow Guardian also spoke to Glasgow Students for Choice (GSC), who spoke strongly against the regularity of anti-abortion protests and the barriers which still exist to abortion for many. 

GSC told The Glasgow Guardian: “We have been working with Back Off Scotland to call out the Scottish Government for diverting conversation about enacting buffer zones onto local councils. This is not good enough – it creates a postcode lottery which means that safe abortion access is dependent on the region you live in. 

“We urgently need national legislation to enforce 150 metre buffer zones. You can do your bit to help right now by signing Back Off Scotland’s petition and writing to your local MSP to demand action.”


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