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Kate Forbes accused of ‘ignorant’ comments after defending silent prayer near abortion clinics

The Highlands MSP and former SNP finance secretary was criticised by buffer zone campaign group Back off Scotland.

Scottish SNP Finance Secretary Kate Forbes
Former SNP finance chief Kate Forbes. Image: PA.

Campaigners have accused SNP MSP Kate Forbes of making “ignorant comments” after she defended silent prayer outside of abortion clinics.

Ms Forbes shared her views on the upcoming Holyrood legislation which could see buffer zones imposed around clinics.

If backed by MSPs, the bill would prevent protest within 200 metres of medical facilities.

An unlimited fine for flouting the ban is also proposed in the legislation.

Both Nicola Sturgeon and Humza Yousaf have supported the legislation, which has support across all parties in the Scottish Parliament.

Protestors could face fines under the proposals. Image: AP

But Skye. Lochaber and Badenoch MSP Kate Forbes, who came second to Mr Yousaf in the race to succeed Nicola Sturgeon, said any new law had to be the product of a “liberal society”.

Ms Forbes faced criticism during the leadership contest over her views on social issues such as abortion and equal marriage.

In an interview by the Scottish Catholic media group Sancta Familia, the former finance secretary said she was not surprised by the reaction but highlighted that she still won 48% of the vote among party members.

Quizzed on the proposed buffer zone law, Ms Forbes said the legislation would have to “work hard” to ensure it is not illiberal.

She said: “It is really important that every piece of legislation, including a bill like this that touches on so many of our enshrined freedoms, that it is properly scrutinised, and that the committee and then the parliament take the broadest number and diversity of views on the bill.

Kate Forbes: ‘Silent prayer essential’

“I think there are some really important points here. Firstly, I do not think that you can ban prayer. So I think that silent prayer is essential and that is an important freedom to uphold.

“I think also though, you cannot protect harassment and anti-social behaviour. So that should be banned.

“I think this bill has got to get the right balance because, of course, in some of these clinics, people are going for a host of different reasons.

“It’s important to protect their freedom to access that care, as well as protect the freedom of those to pray in a peaceful way.”

But campaigners who support the legislation say silent prayer can intimidate women who are accessing healthcare services.

Kate Forbes’ comments have been criticised. Image: PA

Large groups and vigils often stand outside clinics, with some attempting to “help” women as they enter.

Ms Forbes comments in defence of silent prayer have been criticised by Back Off Scotland, a group which has campaigned for the introduction of buffer zones.

A spokesperson said: “We’ve heard from hundreds of women who have been negatively impacted by the behaviours of these groups – silent or otherwise – at the gates of abortion clinics across Scotland.

“It’s very concerning that despite that information being in the public domain and multiple women bravely speaking out about their experiences, Kate Forbes still feels emboldened to make these ignorant comments.”

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