An SNP MSP has admitted he “visited” a controversial abortion vigil outside a hospital.
John Mason, who has previously tabled a motion in Holyrood to “restrict” abortion, admitted in an email to campaign group Back Off Scotland that he attended the event – which has been criticised for its impact on women seeking healthcare.
Back Off Scotland is campaigning for 150-metre “buffer zones” where protests are not allowed, in response to recent demonstrations outside hospitals.
The 40 Days for Life group has stood outside a number of hospitals in Scotland, with Mr Mason saying he “visited” one such event at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow.
In the email, Mr Mason said: “I have only visited one of these gatherings outside a hospital. It was at the QEUH in Glasgow and could not really be described as a protest. It was more like a vigil.
“They stood across a wide road from the hospital entrance and certainly did not approach anyone, harass anyone, or cause alarm or distress. Therefore, I am wondering which sites in Scotland have been causing a problem?”
He went on to say he considered abortion to be “seldom essential or vital”, before claiming the vigils may help women realise “they have a choice”.
He added: “Sadly some women are being coerced by a partner or family to have an abortion when they may not realise they have a choice, e.g. by having the baby and giving him/her up for adoption.”
He also claimed he was “unconvinced” of the need for a new buffer zone law, adding: “Breach of the peace is a wide ranging power which the police have and should be able to use in most circumstances.”
Lucy Grieve, co-founder and director of Back Off Scotland, said: “This is really disturbing.
“First, the Scottish Government abdicate from their responsibility of protecting women accessing abortion services from intimidation and harassment.
“Now, we have evidence that one of their own MSPs has attended an anti-choice protest at QEUH.
“The Scottish Government need to take ownership of this issue now, implement buffer zones nationally, and protect women from their legal right to accessing healthcare.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart accused Mr Mason of being “wildly out of touch with the people of Scotland”, adding: “It’s really rather scary that someone with views like this is a lawmaker with the power to influence women’s healthcare.
“Abortion services have for decades been part of the healthcare system. For years my party and I have backed campaigners calling to set up these buffer zones.
“Every patient should be able to receive the medical treatment they need without fear of harassment or intimidation.”
Scottish Conservative public health spokeswoman Sue Webber agreed, adding: “For an SNP MSP to underestimate the vast importance of access to reproductive healthcare is simply outrageous.
“We must ensure that women across Scotland are able to access this vital service free from harassment and judgment.”
Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon urged ministers to “get on with” bringing in legislation for buffer zones.
She added: “This is a deeply worrying admission from anti-choice MSP John Mason and must be fully investigated by the SNP.
“Those who gather in this way near clinics are causing distress to women seeking abortion services.”
A spokesperson for the SNP said: “Women accessing abortion services, just like any other health service, should be able to do so without fear of intimidation or targeted harassment.
“The Scottish Government has already set out its commitment to supporting any local authority which wishes to use by-laws to establish buffer zones outside clinics which provide abortion services.”
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