Clinic consultation

Glasgow and Edinburgh set to test abortion clinic ‘buffer zones’

SCOTLAND’s biggest towns are set to try buffer zones around abortion clinics as part of government efforts to stop protesters interfering with women’s healthcare.

After calling an emergency summit on the issue, Nicola Sturgeon said she hoped Glasgow and Edinburgh would use regulations to create the zones as a short-term measure.

She said the Scottish Government would support any local authority facing a legal challenge over the creation of zones to prevent “fear, harassment or intimidation”.

The prime minister also said she was ready to “engage” in a long legal battle to get the national buffer zone law passed through Holyrood and into the law books.

Representatives from local government, the Third Sector, Police Scotland, NHS and campaigners attended the meeting in Edinburgh, along with MSPs from all parties.

This followed increasingly loud and visible protests by anti-abortion campaigners outside the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow and the Chalmers Center in Edinburgh.

Ms Sturgeon said she feared such protests would receive further impetus from the US Supreme Court, ending the 50-year-old constitutional right to abortion last week.

The court’s decision to overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade case and return abortion law to individual states led to a wave of immediate clinic closures and cancellations of operations.

Scottish councils have so far been reluctant to use regulations to create spaces around clinics for fear of legal action.

The Cosla Council umbrella group has also obtained legal advice noting that the UK Supreme Court has ruled that protesters have a right to be loud and disruptive.

The Scottish government initially refused to legislate but was prompted to act by new Green MSP Gillian Mackay proposing her own bill to create 150m buffer zones around clinics free of protesters.

Ms Sturgeon now supports the Holyrood legislation, but also the councils’ interim measures to contain protests and test the legality of the areas.

She said she had ‘no doubt’ legislation was the long-term answer, but there was also a drive for central and local government to act together much sooner.

The Prime Minister said: ‘I think councils will understandably be nervous about a legal challenge to what they are doing and I am keen for the government to offer as much support as possible to stand up to this and help to deal with the implications.

“Glasgow and Edinburgh are clearly the councils where this is the biggest problem, although there are other health councils attending these protests.

“I don’t have the authority to pick a board and say you will, but I’m certainly keen to have discussions with Cosla and with voluntary boards.

“I would hope that both Glasgow and Edinburgh would be around this table to see if either or both could be prepared, with the appropriate government backing and backing, to use the settlement powers they have.

“Given the location of the most high-profile of these protests, Glasgow is an obvious place where you would want to see this.”

She said the London Borough of Ealing took three years to set up the UK’s first buffer zone around an abortion clinic in 2018, facing pro-life legal challenges amid of that.

She said the process in Scotland could be just as controversial and likened it to the Scottish government’s five-year battle with the drinks industry over the minimum unit price.

She said: “These things can take a while. Minimum pricing is a good example.

“All bets were against us, prevailing on minimum prices at every stage and we did that. Sometimes you just have to be willing to dig in and defend what you think is the right thing to do.”

The summit coincided with a row over comments from Glasgow Shettleston MSP SNP John Mason endorsing Roe’s overthrow against Wade.

As a devout Christian who has stood up for pro-life “vigils” outside abortion clinics in Scotland, he said he was “rather positive” about the US Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Daily Record reported that he said: ‘First and foremost, it’s good for democracy because decisions on abortion will be made at the state level rather than the United States.

“It aligns the US with the UK, with decisions on abortion being made at Scotland or England level or not at UK level.”

He added: “However, I fully accept that the key issue here is abortion itself. I note the remarks people make about women’s rights. However, others will say that from the moment of conception, there are two people who have rights both the woman and the baby.

“So I really see my role as speaking on behalf of the weaker part, which is the baby.”

The Prime Minister said, “I am very pro-choice. So I totally disagree with John Mason, but people have the right to express those opinions.

“What I don’t want to see is that opinion influencing government policy and it’s not.

“Because I don’t think it’s fair to impose this view on women and restrict women’s right to control their own bodies, and certainly not to restrict women’s rights to health care entirely. health.

“Abortion services are health care and women should have the right to access them without fear, harassment or intimidation.”

Ms Sturgeon said the US Supreme Court’s ruling was “catastrophic” for women in the US and risked fueling anti-abortion sentiment elsewhere.

She said: “There is a danger that will be the case in countries around the world. Often we see what starts in the United States spread to other countries.

“First and foremost, this is a catastrophic and horrific decision for women in the United States.

“History tells us that you can’t ban abortion, you can only ban safe abortion, and women’s lives will be in danger because of it.

“I think in general, around the world, we are seeing a decline in women’s rights in general. “A lot of times that’s what happens when progress is made – there’s a backlash against that.

“And I think in particular we see that with a woman’s right to choose.

“There have been protests outside hospitals and clinics in Scotland for a long time. “But there is a feeling that it has picked up lately and there is no doubt in my mind that what happens in America will have an impact on that.

“Some of the campaigns in America [are] very well funded and seeks to support similar campaigns in other countries often with funding.

Labor MSP Monica Lennon, who attended the summit, said it covered some old ground, but the government’s focus on the issue was nonetheless welcome.

She said there would be a follow-up summit later this year.

Professor Maggie Kinloch, president of the Humanist Society Scotland, who was also present, said: “Our research unequivocally shows public support for restricting protests that deliberately target individual users of health services.

“These protests are often orchestrated by ultra-conservative religious groups who believe a woman’s role in life is simply to be a mother.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said: “For almost four years I have joined campaign groups to pressure the Scottish Government to stop dragging its feet and ensure what women feel safe when seeking abortion treatment.

“The Prime Minister has now confirmed that her government will not oppose Gillian Mackay’s bill.

“These proposals should be the base camp, not the peak of our ambition when it comes to protecting and expanding women’s reproductive rights.”