Swinney pressed over buffer zones Bill amid concern over deputy’s views

The First Minister has been asked to reiterate his Government’s commitment to ban anti-abortion protests outside clinics and hospitals.

John Swinney pressed over abortion protests Bill amid concern at his deputy Kate Forbes’s views Getty Images

A Green MSP has called on John Swinney to reaffirm the Scottish Government’s commitment to curb anti-abortion protests amid concern over views expressed by new deputy first minister Kate Forbes.

Gillian Mackay MSP is pressing for reassurances from the First Minister after Forbes appeared to indicate support for “silent prayer” protests in an interview.

Forbes told Christian media outlet Sancta Familia, last year, she did not think prayer should be banned and Mackay’s Bill had to strike “the right balance”.

Mackay brought forward the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill to ban protesters from congregating withing 200 metres of hospital and clinics.

The Bill was supported by a majority of MSPs at a first stage vote on its general principles in April and is expected to proceed to stage two this month for further scrutiny before a final vote.

Mackay has since written to Swinney asking him to commit to supporting her proposed legislation and ensure his Government will not support any attempt to water it down or change its timetable.

She said: “The protests we have seen outside hospitals are absolutely wrong. They set out to intimidate, harass and deter people from accessing healthcare that they are entitled to.

“I would be very concerned if the Scottish Government was to support any amendments that could undermine or water down the protections that are included in my Bill.

“A so-called silent prayer exemption, for example, would risk making the Bill far less effective and allow some of the protests and the pain that people feel to continue.

“I hope that the First Minister will reaffirm his Government’s support for my Bill, and that he will oppose any attempts to dilute it.

“Far too many people have suffered for far too long. All politicians need to stand together in defence of reproductive rights and the right to access healthcare.”

In a letter to Back off Scotland, First Minister John Swinney wrote: “My Government will continue to provide full support to Gillian Mackay MSP as her Bill progresses through the Scottish Parliament.

“I was delighted to see the Bill pass at Stage 1.

“Ms Mackay has already confirmed amendments to be brought forward at Stage 2, which will also be fully supported by my Government.

“I want to assure you personally of my full support for legislation which will protect and advance the right of women to access abortion care”.

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