The Scottish Government has wound up its working group considering buffer zone areas around health facilities.
Members were informed in an email on Tuesday about the decision to close the group, which was formed in November 2020.
It said ministers were “seeking to bring forward legislation as quickly as possible,” and that closing the group was the next step in the process.
It was formed to address anti-abortion protest outside health facilities after a rise in complaints about their presence at hospitals and sexual health clinics across the country.
Buffer zone safety legislation for health settings, initially brought forward by Green MSP Gillian Mackay, is making its way through parliament.
The government’s working group was exploring different avenues for introducing buffer zones, including bye-laws for local authorities.
On Wednesday, women’s health minister Jenni Minto confirmed that work has now concluded and the government are “now fully focused on supporting the drafting and development of Gillian Mackay MSP’s national Abortion Service Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill.”
Michael Matheson, the new health secretary, has previously said he is “absolutely committed” to implementing buffer zone rules.
However, campaigners and some opposition politicians have criticised the conclusion of the group and branded it “premature”.
Labour councillor Deena Tissera said: “The Scottish government need to stop the dither, stop the delay and move this legislation at pace through the Scottish Parliament.”
Back Off Scotland, the campaign group gathering first hand experiences of women impacted by ati-abortion protesters, claimed the closure of the working group was “ill-thought out”.
In a statement the group said: “Scrapping the buffer zone working group before a bill has been formally introduced in the Scottish Parliament seems ill-thought-out and premature.
“Not only were campaigning groups like ours – who represent the lived experiences of those affected by the protests – frozen out of this group, we’ve also been kept in the dark about the working timeline of the bill.
“It’s regretful that Scotland is now the only UK nation to not have passed buffer zone legislation and not offer women and staff protection from harassment when accessing healthcare.
“The delay in this legislation has nothing to do with carefully crafting a bill – there is no drafted bill, and even if there was there is a clear precedent set by bills passed in other legislatures – it is solely due to a lack of leadership on the issue by decision-makers who have had the power to make real change on this since 2020 but have sat on their hands.”
Argyll and Bute MSP, Jenni Minto said group was formed “to consider short, medium and long term actions to address anti-abortion activities which take place outside of healthcare facilities providing abortion services.”
In a statement she added: “We are clear that delivering national legislation is best and most secure route to ensure buffer zones are delivered and sustained.
“A significant proportion of the group’s work was considering the use of Local Authority bye-laws to potentially deliver the zones. That work has concluded, and we are now fully focused on supporting the drafting and development of Gillian Mackay MSP’s national Abortion Service Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill.
“We will continue to take forward discussions with stakeholders to ensure that robust and effective legislation is introduced as soon as possible.”
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