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Women’s health minister rejects call to ban protests outside abortion clinics

Gillian Mackay MSP wants to create protest buffer zones outside abortion clinics and hospitals.

The Scottish Government says it will not support calls to create protest buffer zones around abortion clinics, despite being told women are being “threatened” and screamed at for seeking treatment.

Plans are being lodged at Holyrood to change the law by creating 150metre buffer zones around all abortion clinics across Scotland so women are not harassed or intimidated by anti-abortion campaigners.

In parliament on Thursday, Green MSP Gillian Mackay said some women have been called “murderers” and others told they should “get cancer”.

Despite a number of MSPs speaking in support of the proposals, women’s health minister Maree Todd says the government will not support a blanket ban on buffer zones.

She said the rights of those getting an abortion need to be balanced with the rights of those protesting.

‘I was called a teenaged murderer’

Speaking at Holyrood, Ms Mackay says the debate was not about whether or not women should have abortions, but about safe access to healthcare as a human right.

Gillian Mackay MSP

She says outside an abortion clinic or hospital is not an appropriate place to hold a protest, and says 70% of women of reproductive age live in a health board where a hospital has been targeted by anti-abortion groups in the last five years.

Pauline McNeill MSP added this includes protests outside Aberdeen Maternity Hospital and Ninewells Hospital in Dundee.

Aberdeen Maternity Hospital

Ms Mackay quoted two women about their experiences of abuse outside such clinics.

She read: “I am a victim of sexual assault so I had to book an appointment.

“I was already blaming myself and terrified to tell anyone.

“I was 17 and completely by myself.

“There was a small group of individuals, mostly men, standing at the other side of the road and I was repeatedly called out to by one man.”

She added: “When I ignored it I was called a teenaged murderer.

“I have never been pregnant, had an abortion or used contraceptive medication, but they tried to humiliate me for it.

“I felt threatened and terrified in a time when I needed protection and comfort.”

She also read: “I was pregnant with my second child and when I attempted to engage with one of them, one member of the group marched over to me.

“They were extremely aggressive, screaming in my face, and several times told me I was going to get cancer because I had disclosed I had an abortion between pregnancies.”

I was told I was going to get cancer because I had disclosed I had an abortion between pregnancies.

She added such buffer zones were already in place in Canada and Australia and in some parts of England and the USA.

Ms Mackay also said leaving the decision up to individual local authorities to introduce bylaws to create these buffer zones would result in a “postcode lottery”.

MSP defends anti-abortion protests

During the Holyrood debate SNP MSP John Mason said he believes life starts at conception and therefore someone needed to speak up for the unborn baby who had no voice.

He said he attended one of these demonstrations outside a hospital in Glasgow back in 2018.

Mr Mason said: “It was held across the road and the hospital occupies a huge site so it was not close to any medical facilities.

John Mason MSP

“From memory a dozen people were there saying prayers and it was not loud or aggressive.

“Police Scotland was asked if there had been any incidents and apart from two incidents in 2020, where no action was taken, there is no serious problem, so the existing laws are effective.

“One woman said she was there for the women who in their heart of hearts were not at peace going ahead with an abortion and needed a last minute sign to keep their baby.”

In response to his comments, North East Greens MSP Maggie Chapman said many women do not go to the police about their experiences, so it was not an excuse to do nothing.

Government will not support blanket ban

Responding to the debate, Ms Todd said the Scottish Government will not support a blanket ban.

She agreed people should not be harassed or intimidated when accessing healthcare and said she sympathises with the concerns Ms Mackay and others had raised.

However, Ms Todd added: “It is important that any action taken is proportionate and balances the EHCR [European Court of Human Rights] rights to accessing healthcare and the rights of those protesting.

Maree Todd MSP

“The Scottish Government doesn’t consider that imposing a blanket buffer zone around all abortion clinics is appropriate.”

She added: “I don’t pretend it is easy but the real message to the chamber is we will continue to seek to find a way forward.”

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