Credit: Back Off Scotland

Buffer zone bill introduced at Holyrood

By Niamh Flanagan

Earlier this month, Gillian Mackay, MSP for the Scottish Green Party, lodged her Member’s Bill for the introduction of buffer zones around abortion and reproductive health clinics. The bill, entitled The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill was published at Holyrood on 6 October, and is the product of a campaign to introduce buffer zones around medical centres and abortion clinics that began in 2020 in Scotland, following a proliferation of anti-abortion protesting outside of clinics. According to Mackay, the bill will offer the “best protections” in the UK for those seeking reproductive healthcare. The provisions of the bill involve prohibiting anti-choice protests from being held within 200 metres of any medical facilities, carrying with it an unlimited maximum fine for those who choose to contravene this law. The bill also permits health boards and ministers to apply to extend the scope of buffer zones for specific sites if necessary. 

Support for the bill has been expressed across the political spectrum at Holyrood, with notable support from the First Minister Humza Yousaf, alongside more than 70 fellow MSPs. Mackay commented: “There is no excuse for the harassment that far too many people have had to endure when accessing healthcare. These protests should not be happening, and, today, we are an important step closer to ending them for good. We have learned from those who have worked to deliver buffer zones in other countries, particularly in Northern Ireland. The legal precedent that was set when the Supreme Court upheld their bill is one that we have taken a lot of confidence from”. Scottish health minister Jenni Minto has also expressed the support of the Scottish government – “This is an important milestone towards national legislation to protect women from unwanted influence, distress or alarm when accessing abortion services. The decision to access abortion services is an individual and personal choice which should not be subject to public demonstration or influence outside premises providing abortion services. The Scottish Government is grateful to Ms Mackay for the work she has undertaken to reach this stage and we will continue supporting her Member’s Bill as it makes its way through Parliament.”

CARE for Scotland, a social policy charity seeking to bring “Christian insight” to policymaking issued a statement criticising the introduction of the bill : “CARE for Scotland is not involved with protests or vigils outside facilities where abortions are provided. We would condemn any behaviours that involves harassment against others, or actively impeding freedom of movement. All public debate around an issue such as abortion, and especially interaction with expectant mothers, must be conducted with an abundance of empathy, compassion, and sensitivity, recognising that both lives in a pregnancy have value. 

“We are concerned that this Bill is based on an objectively false narrative that access to abortions in Scotland is being impeded. Terminations are occurring at record numbers, and dangerous ‘home abortion’ rules remain in place. The buffer zones debate has diverted public attention away from issues such as disability abortion, advances in technology that improve viability, moves to reduce abortions, and wider discussions about the drivers of abortion in Scotland.”

Back Off Scotland, an organisation involved extensively with campaginign for hte introduction of buffer zones have released a statement asserting the testimony of large numbers of women who experienced harassment accessing abortion care in Scotland – “Since we started our campaign in 2020, we have collected thousands of stories about women who have been harassed at the gates of medical facilities. The launch of this crucial legislation has come not a moment too soon, and we look forward to working closely with Gillian Mackay MSP to ensure the Bill can pass through Parliament at pace.”

The Glasgow Guardian spoke to Glasgow Students For Choice (GSC), a UofG pro-choice society, who released a joint statement on the introduction of the bill: 

“We at Glasgow Students for Choice believe in the right of accessing reproductive healthcare without undergoing harassment and stigma and being prevented access to healthcare facilities. We are proud supporters of Back Off Scotland and want to thank Lucy and Alice, as well as Gillian MacKay, for their relentless work, the passion they put every day in their fight, and for not giving up in the face of a system that kept challenging them. There is still much work to be done and we invite everyone to write to their MPs and ask them to support the bill. Anti-choice groups with access to great amounts of resources will try their hardest to prevent the bill from passing or to modify it to their advantage. The archdiocese of St Andrews and Edinburgh are already fighting back and American anti-choice organisations have their eyes on Scotland and will be funding organisations to oppose the bill. It is vital to keep pressuring MPs and let them know anti-choice propaganda and misinformation are not welcome here and we absolutely need buffer zones to protect our citizens from harassment and stigma. You can find your MPs contact details and a template written by activist Gemma Clark in our bio on Instagram.”

Maria Papachristou, campaign coordinator of GSC also offered her personal insight: 

“I was terrified when accessing my medical termination packet from the Sandyford sexual health clinic. Having lived in Finnieston for over two years, I have seen (and interacted with) numerous anti-choice protesters directly outside the clinic. I have witnessed the created environment of intimidation, shame, and hostility. Thankfully, I did not experience a combative “audience” on my collection day, still, I was not walking into Sandyford with the confidence to exercise my reproductive right. The social stigma created by these demonstrations persisted regardless of them not being there. Buffer zones are instrumental for patients successful abortion aftercare”.


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