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Progress on abortion clinic buffer zones ‘as soon as possible’, says Sturgeon

There are concerns about abortion rights in the US (Michelle Pemberton/AP)
There are concerns about abortion rights in the US (Michelle Pemberton/AP)

Progress on protest buffer zones outside abortion clinics will be made “as soon as possible”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

There have been renewed calls for buffer zones outside clinics in Scotland after it emerged the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling legalising abortion across the US may be overturned.

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

On Tuesday, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said ministers had “stalled and dissembled” on buffer zones.

The First Minister was asked about the issue when she spoke to journalists on Wednesday.

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Nicola Sturgeon spoke to journalists about the issue (Russell Cheyne/PA)

Asked how long the working group would take, she said: “People know my views on abortion and people know my views on the right of women to control their own bodies and the right to choose.

“There is no part of me that would want to slow this down, so I want to make progress as quickly as possible.”

Legal considerations around buffer zones could not be ignored, she said.

Those who wish to protest outside abortion clinics should instead do so outside parliament, she said, adding: “Don’t go to a hospital and make what is inevitably a very traumatic experience for a woman harder than it already is.”

The risk to abortion rights in America is “chilling and dangerous for women”, she said.

She added: “Even here, having women who are going to have an abortion subject to intimidation and protest outside a hospital is deeply wrong.”

The First Minister’s statements came after the architect of the UK’s abortion laws intervened on the issue.

David Steel said “busybodies have no right to pressurise women” who are seeking to end a pregnancy.

During his time as an MP, Mr Steel introduced the Private Member’s Bill which made abortion legal in the UK.

Lord Steel, the former Liberal Party leader who went on to become the first presiding officer at the Scottish Parliament, stressed those who “oppose abortion in principle should have their views respected”.

He was also clear that “nobody should be pressured into undertaking abortion if they are opposed to it”.

But he insisted: “Equally, busybodies have no right to pressurise women who wish to do so.”

Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay is proposing to introduce a Member’s Bill at Holyrood to legislate for buffer zones around abortion clinics, although the move has so far not been backed by the Scottish Government.

Lord Steel’s comments came after reports based on leaked documents suggested the US Supreme Court could be poised to overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling that legalised abortion across the country – sparking fears that as many as half of all US states could then introduce bans on terminations.

US President Joe Biden has made clear his belief that a “woman’s right to choose is fundamental”, adding the “basic fairness and the stability of our law demand that it not be overturned”.

The Democrat president also called for the election of “more pro-choice senators and a pro-choice majority in the House” in the American mid-term elections to be held in November, so legislation could be passed that would ensure the right to abortion can be retained.

Lord Steel said the row in the US “reminds us how wrong it is to leave such matters to the courts”.

He added that he therefore welcomed Mr Biden’s decision to encourage Congress to legislate in this area.

Lord Steel noted that when abortion was legalised in the UK in 1967 and in the US in 1973, this could only happen through “some form of surgery”.

He added: “The currently available abortifacient pill in the early weeks of pregnancy makes the procedure more acceptable.”

Lord Steel quit the Liberal Democrats and announced his retirement from the House of Lords in 2020 after telling the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse that during his time as Liberal leader he had failed to act on allegations against prominent colleague Cyril Smith.