Calls for buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland after protests

The Scottish government is facing growing calls to impose buffer zones around abortion clinics amid fears that potential changes to abortion rights in the US are emboldening anti-choice protesters.

A leaked US draft supreme court ruling overturning Roe v Wade has sharpened anxieties over delays in implementing the SNP’s 2021 manifesto pledge to support local authorities to establish protest-free zones around clinics.

With increasing levels of protests outside hospitals in Glasgow and Edinburgh, Scottish Labour called for an emergency summit to discuss the “urgent” introduction of buffer zones. Similar zones exist in a handful of local authorities in England following a landmark case in Ealing, west London.

The first minister and SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, said that “the right of women to decide what happens to our own bodies is a human right” after reports that Roe v Wade, the 1973 case that guaranteed the right to abortion in the US, could be overturned.

She tweeted on Tuesday: “Experience tells us that removing the legal right to abortion doesn’t stop abortions happening – it just makes them unsafe and puts the lives of women at much greater risk.”

But Back Off Scotland co-founder Lucy Grieve said Sturgeon’s outrage “goes only so far”. “There are real, tangible threats to abortion access in Scotland that are going unchallenged by her government. The women’s health minister, Maree Todd, claims that she wants Scotland to be world leading on women’s healthcare, yet her inaction is emboldening these protesters. If she cannot show courage and legislate on this issue, then she must step aside for somebody that will.”

Campaigners and opposition politicians have grown increasingly frustrated by delays, which Sturgeon last month blamed on “legal complexities”, with the Scottish Lib Dem leader, Alex Cole-Hamilton, saying her government had “stalled and dissembled”.

Now Scottish Green party MSP Gillian Mackay intends to launch a member’s bill to implement legal restrictions later this month.

Calling for an immediate summit of MSPs, healthcare women’s organisations and clinicians, Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon said: “The Scottish government needs to be more transparent about what the potential legal obstacles are. Maree Todd has said that national legislation is not the answer, but unfortunately these delays have emboldened anti-abortion protests, which have got bigger and more intense in recent months.”

On Wednesday, Lennon confronted protesters standing with placards outside the maternity unit of the Queen Elizabeth university hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow. “I respect your right to pray and protest but you can pray at church, you can protest at the parliament, this is a place where women access healthcare,” she said before asking the group if they were aware of the upset they were causing.

“This is a very difficult time for many women due to foetal abnormalities, women and girls who’ve been raped, women who are making a choice for their own reasons.” The group insisted “it’s a prayer vigil not a protest” but confirmed they wanted to end abortion care in Scotland.

Last month, 76 consultants from the QEUH wrote to Todd calling on her to “show courage” and introduce protest-free “buffer zones” across all clinics providing abortions in Scotland.

Lead signatory and consultant paediatric radiologist Dr Greg Irwin said colleagues were “seriously concerned” about the protests, which can be seen and heard by patients on wards in the maternity unit, adding: “We know first-hand how distressing this harassment is for our patients, which makes it infuriating for us as clinical staff to have to pass these groups day in, day out.”

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