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Medics urge minister to act against protests outside abortion clinics

More than 100 anti-abortion protesters gathered outside a Glasgow hospital at the weekend (Back Off Scotland/PA)
More than 100 anti-abortion protesters gathered outside a Glasgow hospital at the weekend (Back Off Scotland/PA)

Pro-choice campaigners have urged a Scottish Government minister to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics to prevent “vulnerable” women being targeted by protesters.

The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) has written to women’s health minister Maree Todd to express concern over protesters being able to “pressure” service users outside hospitals.

It comes as more than 100 anti-abortion activists gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Sunday.

BPAS, made up of a group of consultants, estimate that thousands of women having an abortion in Scotland every year have to attend hospitals targeted by protesters.

Buffer zones would ban certain activities designed to deter or prevent women from accessing abortion care within 150 metres of the entrance to a clinic or hospital, the organisation said.

The anti-abortion campaigners are aiming to pressure individuals seeking a termination into making different choices and BPAS says they are being allowed to access “vulnerable” patients.

In a letter to Ms Todd, the group of 76 clinicians from the Glasgow hospital, wrote: “For the last six years, our patients have been subjected to these protests by associates of the American-based campaign group 40 Days for Life.

“This group seeks to restrict women’s access to healthcare. The stated aims for their ‘vigil’ are to serve ‘as a call to repentance for those who work at the abortion centre [sic] and those who patronise the facility’.

Scottish Parliament
Maree Todd has been urged to act to prevent the protests (Fraser Bremner/Daily Mail/PA)

“As well as being our patients, these women are our sisters, daughters and colleagues. They deserve compassion and support.

“They should be spared the deplorable intimidation and harassment which they currently receive from protesters.

“Similar protests have been going on at hospitals and clinics across Scotland since the 1990s, and we believe that Scottish Government action is long overdue.”

The group told Ms Todd it is now time to “follow the lead” of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which passed a Safe Access Zone Bill last month.

Similar legislation against harassment and intimidation of women was announced last week in Spain and in Australia in 2021.

Women have shared their experience of encountering anti-abortion protesters with BPAS at hospitals across Scotland.

Alice Murray said she felt fearful when confronted by protesters as she attended Chalmers Clinic in Edinburgh to seek an abortion.

Ms Murray, who was 20 at the time, said: “There were roughly seven protesters all standing on one side of the street, meaning they were impossible to ignore.

“I attended the clinic alone and felt targeted by the protesters.

“My memories around walking into the clinic are blurred and I believe this is due to the fear felt from their presence, leaving me to feel non-present.

“During both of my appointments, I was comforted by the high standard of care delivered from clinic staff. They talked me through my options and made sure I knew an abortion was not my only option.

“This made me even more angry at the protesters outside, who claim they are letting clinic users know ‘the other side’.”

Lily Roberts said protesters were gathered outside a Glasgow hospital when she entered and were still there seven hours later when she left.

“My privacy and safety were threatened, and it was a deeply intimidating experience,” she said.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat leader, has also written to Ms Todd to ask the Scottish Government to give local authorities the ability to introduce buffer zones.

Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd said: “The Scottish Government is committed to women being able to access timely abortion without judgment. I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any attempts to intimidate women as they choose to access abortion services.

“We look forward to Gillian Mackay MSP bringing forward her member’s bill on buffer zones and I have publicly committed to work constructively with her in this regard.

“I have convened a working group with partners such as COSLA, Police Scotland and affected councils and health boards to look at how to address the vigils and protests that take place outside abortion clinics.”