Final buffer zone proposals to be published before summer recess

The bill would create safe access zones around hospitals and clinics to prevent protesters from standing at entrances.

Final proposals on abortion clinic buffer zones bill to be published before Scottish Parliament summer recess STV News

Final proposals for a bill to introduce safe access ‘buffer zones’ around health clinics, in a response to anti-abortion protests, is expected to be published ahead of the summer recess.

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay, who introduced the bill, announced on Thursday that the consultation analysis will be published before July 1 this year.

Over 12,000 people took part in the consultation, with polls showing a majority of Scots back the idea.

The bill aims to prevent anti-abortion protesters from holding demonstrations directly outside health facilities where patients are accessing care.

It comes after a high number of protests, with participants holding candles and graphic banners, being held outside major hospitals and clinics including Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Campaigners who carry out demonstrations, including the US-based group 40 Days of Life, claim the anti-abortion protests are peaceful and an expression of free speech.

On Wednesday, the Scottish Government announced the working ministerial group on the implementation of buffer zones had concluded.

Campaign group Back Off Scotland, who have been gathering women’s accounts of harassment and intimidation outside health clinics, branded the closure of the group ‘premature’.

However they welcomed news that the proposals would be published.

It also comes as the Scotland’s Trade Union Congress’ (STUC) women’s committee voted to support the bill.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions (FMQs), Mackay asked: “Now the work of the short-life working group on buffer zones has concluded, does he agree that all of our collective focus should be on delivering national legislation as the most robust way to put buffer zones in place in Scotland – and that our aim should be to bring forward the final proposal for the Bill before the summer recess.”  

In his answer, First Minister Humza Yousaf agreed and emphasised his support for her bill and said officials would drive it forward “at pace.”

In a statement following FMQs, Mackay said: “This is a really important bill and I am proud to have the support of the First Minister and the Scottish Government. I am delighted that in the weeks ahead we will be able to publish the consultation analysis and final proposal.  

“There has been a huge amount of interest in this bill, with 12,000 people taking the time to respond. I am grateful to every single one of them. Lots of people have shared really awful and heartbreaking stories with me. I want to do them justice and ensure that our bill is watertight and effective, and that we can enact it as soon as possible.

“Abortion rights are human rights, and far too many people have been targeted and intimidated by these appalling protests. My bill will stop them for good.”

On Wednesday, women’s health minister Jenni Minto said: “We are clear that delivering national legislation is best and most secure route to ensure buffer zones are delivered and sustained.”

She added: “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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