Kate Forbes said she is committed to ensuring women are free from harassment and fear around abortion clinics following a plea from campaigners.
The Finance Secretary returned from maternity leave early to launch her bid to replace Nicola Sturgeon as Scotland’s First Minister.
And she said that women should not “be subjected to fear and harassment” when attending clinics across the country.
It comes as campaigners Back Off Scotland wrote to Forbes – and her opponents in the leadership race: Humza Yousaf and Ash Regan – to ask for support in implementing 150-metre safe access zones around hospitals administering abortions.
Fellow candidate Yousaf also repeated on Twitter that he supports the call for buffer zone protection zones around abortion clinics.
The current health secretary had previously voiced his support for the policy.
Forbes has said she will work with Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay, who is introducing the issue as part of a Member’s Bill in Holyrood, on how to adequately “balance” the legislation.
She told the PA news agency: “I would say that I certainly don’t think that women going for an abortion should be subjected to fear and harassment.
“And so, I’d be willing to work with Gillian Mackay who is introducing the Bill.
“I think we should ensure there is not fear and harassment, but also to make sure that the Bill is targeted well, and balanced.”
Sturgeon, who announced her resignation last week, had committed to making improvements, including implementing buffer zones.
But Forbes said she would have “struggled” to support the Scottish Government’s Gender Recognition Reform (Scotland) Bill.
As she was on maternity leave, she did not participate in the final vote before the new year but has been clear on her opposition since 2019.
She was one of 15 SNP politicians who publicly called on her party to delay the proposals which make it easier for transgender people to self-identify as their chosen gender.
She said: “My concerns about self-ID have been well documented and I would have continued to have those concerns about self-ID.
“It’s very difficult to talk hypothetically when it comes to a Bill but I think I would have struggled to support that self-ID element of the Gender Recognition Act.”
However, if she had voted against it, she would have been required to leave her position as Finance Secretary.
Forbes also condemned the “illiberal discourse” around her faith and how her religious views could impact her decisions as First Minister.
She is a member of the Free Church of Scotland and had previously said her faith did not impact her ability to serve as an MSP.
She said: “It is quite an illiberal discourse. Because if we get into the territory of suggesting that anyone who holds public office is to be barred to people of faith, then it sends a very bad signal to the countless people of faith and no faith in Scotland today.
“I think we need to be really careful of the message we are sending.
“Having said that, if my faith is the only thing that people can find to attack, that suggests that my competence, my vision and my experience, speak for themselves.”
Forbes also stressed her confidence in being able to win the leadership race, pledging to focus on “economic prosperity” and “eradicating poverty”, with a focus on the cost-of-living crisis.
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