Anti-abortion campaigners staging protests outside sexual health clinics should “leave women alone”, Nicola Sturgeon said, as she branded the demonstrations “completely and utterly unacceptable”.
The First Minister was pressed on the issue in the wake of concern from some politicians and women’s rights campaigners over protests outside Glasgow’s Sandyford clinic.
Demonstrators there are said to have been using a loudspeaker, leaving patients inside the centre, which provides a variety of services, “distressed”.
With the First Minister having already said she “strongly” supports the creation of buffer zones outside clinics where abortions are carried out, Labour’s Carol Mochan asked Ms Sturgeon what action will be taken.
Ms Sturgeon said a summit on the issue – which she will convene personally – will take place later this month.
The First Minister also pledged to write to councils, offering them support if they wish to bring in by-laws to outlaw demonstrations near clinics.
She added that, while she wants nationwide legislation to be introduced to prevent protests close to clinics, there are “complexities”.
The UK Supreme Court is due to consider legislation on the issue which was passed in Northern Ireland, with Ms Sturgeon saying this could have an impact on what could be done in Scotland.
Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, she said: “There are legal complexities and it doesn’t help anybody for me to pretend there aren’t – these are complexities that local authorities and indeed national government want to work through.
“My preference is we would be able to legislate nationally in order that there is a consistency of approach in this.
“We know though there is forthcoming Supreme Court case sparked by legislation in Northern Ireland which will undoubtedly have an impact on the legal framework here.
“But I am very clear on what I want to do, and in the meantime I do want to work with local authorities to see what more can be done to protect women accessing sexual health services including abortion services.”
Ms Sturgeon told MSPs: “I find what is happening outside hospitals and outside the Sandyford completely and utterly unacceptable, and let me make that clear.
“The summit I have committed to convening will happen this month. That will bring together a range of interests here, including local authorities, including the police.”
“Let me just repeat my commitment to find solutions here and to find those solutions as quickly as possible.”
She also appealed again for anti-abortion campaigners to demonstrate outside the Scottish Parliament, instead of outside clinics.
She said “those who want to protest against abortion” should “come and do it outside this Parliament where the laws are made and leave women alone and stop trying to intimidate them”.
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