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Abortion summit will ‘reaffirm women’s autonomy’ – Sturgeon

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the current situation is unacceptable (Andrew Milligan/PA)
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the current situation is unacceptable (Andrew Milligan/PA)

An abortion summit on Monday will be an important opportunity to “reaffirm women’s autonomy and right to choose”, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

The summit, in Edinburgh, aims to ensure that women in Scotland can access services without fear, harassment or intimidation and will look at legislative mechanisms to establish buffer zones around clinics.

It will also seek to identify immediate, short term actions to protect women from harassment or intimidation outside hospitals and sexual health clinics, following protests by anti-abortion campaigners outside such facilities in recent weeks.

Ms Sturgeon said the summit comes at a particularly important time given the US Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the landmark Roe v Wade ruling, thereby ending the constitutional right to an abortion, which she described as “one of the darkest days for women’s rights in my lifetime.”

The summit will bring together representatives from local government, third sector organisations, Police Scotland, the NHS and campaigners, and will include cross-party representation.

Ms Sturgeon said: “This summit is an important opportunity to reaffirm women’s autonomy and right to choose. It comes at a particularly important time given the overturning of Roe v Wade in the United States.

“The summit will consider in general terms what needs to be done to improve access to abortion services, including second trimester abortions, in Scotland.

“However, its main and most immediate focus will be on mechanisms to establish effective buffer zones. It starts from the clear view that women must be able to access healthcare, including abortion services, free of harassment or intimidation.”

Ms Sturgeon said that the proper focus for anyone protesting against abortion should be Parliament and lawmakers – not hospitals or sexual health clinics.

She said: “Gatherings of this kind create additional stress for anyone using these facilities, for any purpose, and for those who work in them. But for women accessing abortion services the upset, distress and fear that they cause can be profound.

“At what is already a very stressful time, women are being forced to see or make their way past these groups on the way in. And once they’re inside, on top of everything else, there’s the knowledge that they may have to see them again on the way out.

“In my view, the current situation is unacceptable, and it’s one which we must address as a matter of urgency. I am determined that we do so.

“There are issues that we need to solve to establish buffer zones through legislation but if we work together in a spirit of solidarity, I am confident we can find a way.”

Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay, who will attend the summit, last month launched a consultation on her proposed Member’s Bill, which would see 150-metre buffer zones put in place around healthcare facilities which provide abortion services.

The Scottish Government said it is committed to working constructively with Ms Mackay on her Bill.

Gillian Mackay
Gillian Mackay MSP has said there is no place for intimidation outside clinics (Katharine Hay/PA)

Ms Mackay said she hopes the summit can identify interim solutions to tackle unacceptable behaviour while the Bill is passing through the parliamentary process.

She said: “My Bill will provide peace of mind to all those accessing abortion services, by introducing protest-free buffer zones around clinics.

“There is no place for the type of intimidation and harassment we are regularly seeing outside these healthcare facilities at the moment.

“Both healthcare staff, and those accessing services, have relayed horrifying stories of the impact this harassment can have.

“While the parliamentary process can seem frustratingly slow, it is right that there is time for thorough consultation and scrutiny before any proposal becomes law.

“In the meantime, I believe there are a number of options that could be taken forward as interim solutions, particularly in the most egregious examples of this intimidatory behaviour.

“I am grateful to the First Minister for convening today’s summit and hope we can explore some of these options to improve access to services as well as discussing the practicalities of my Bill proposal.”