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Anti-abortion protests outside clinics deemed ‘disgrace’ by Health Secretary

Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said woman seeking abortion care should not be intimidated by protesters outside clinics (Andrew Milligan/PA)
Health Secretary Humza Yousaf said woman seeking abortion care should not be intimidated by protesters outside clinics (Andrew Milligan/PA)

Protests outside abortion clinics in Scotland are a “disgrace”, the Health Secretary has said.

Humza Yousaf urged demonstrators to gather outside the Scottish Parliament instead of “intimidating and harassing” women who are trying to access services.

He was speaking on Thursday as controversy continues over the presence of anti-abortion “vigils” outside clinics across the country.

Mr Yousaf told the PA news agency: “I think some of those protests that we’ve seen are a disgrace, and I don’t use that word lightly.

“I don’t take away from people’s viewpoints that they might have. I know there’ll be people on various different sides of the debate in relation to abortion.

Maree Todd
Women’s health minister Maree Todd is chairing a working group looking into buffer zones (Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA)

“But as the First Minister has rightly said, if you want to demonstrate against the law, come to the Scottish Parliament and demonstrate.”

There have been demands for buffer zones to be introduced in a bid to prevent women being harassed as they access healthcare.

The Scottish Government has set up a working group on the buffer zones, although there have been calls for it to move faster.

Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay is set to introduce a Member’s Bill at Holyrood to legislate for their implementation around abortion clinics, and calls have grown for First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and women’s health minister Maree Todd to act.

Mr Yousaf said the working group, chaired by Ms Todd, is looking at “difficult issues” involving legal challenges in intervening with the protests.

“People have the right in a democracy to be able to protest and demonstrate,” he told PA.

“So what can you do within the current legal framework to avoid the situation that you’ve seen, for example, outside of abortion clinics in Glasgow?

“In the meantime, we’ve got a Member’s Bill coming forward from Green MSP Gillian Mackay, and we’ve said we’ll work really constructively with her to see if there’s a legislative solution to this.”

Mr Yousaf also said comments in defence of the demonstrations from his SNP colleague John Mason were “plain wrong”.

John Mason
John Mason has come under fire for his comments on abortion (Katie Collins/PA)

Mr Mason, the MSP for Glasgow Shettleston, came under fire at the weekend for saying clinics “push abortion without laying out the pros and cons”.

He has admitted previously attending one of the demonstrations, and has said he believes abortion is “seldom essential or vital”.

The Health Secretary said his party colleague’s comments were “misjudged” and “ill-informed”.

Mr Yousaf added: “I would suggest to John Mason that he goes in and meets clinicians. Meet those that are involved in providing services.”