A Labour MSP has called for Police Scotland to use Public Order powers to disperse anti-abortion protesters from outside medical clinics.
Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon said that the controversial protests, which have been deemed ‘prayer vigils’ by pro-life campaigners, are “a policing matter”.
Under section 14 of the Public Order Act 1986, legislation states that senior police officers have the power to disperse crowds if “the purpose of the persons organising it is the intimidation of others with a view to compelling them not to do an act they have a right to do, or to do an act they have a right not to do”.
While the legislation normally applies to riots or antisocial football gatherings, Lennon believes that it could apply to anti-abortion protesters also.
She said: “Police Scotland must take action on harmful anti-abortion protests under Public Order powers.
“It’s worrying that prayer is being used as a fig leaf to intimidate women. The protesters are determined to compel women not to have abortions when they have a right to do so, and this is a policing matter.
“When I questioned the protesters at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, they confirmed they want to end abortion. That’s why they turn up, time after time, to abortion healthcare facilities.
“SNP ministers have been too slow to implement buffer zones to protect safe access to clinics. While they dither and delay, women are looking to the police for protection.”
Campaign group Back Off Scotland, who are supported by Lennon, are calling for protest-free buffer zones to be implemented outside clinics offering abortions and a private member’s bill has been brought forward by Green MSP Gillian Mackay.
Lennon’s comments come weeks after over 100 protesters from the pro-life 40 Days for Life group lined the street outside Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, prompting a joint letter signed by more than 70 consultants demanding the SNP’s women’s health minister Maree Todd to implement buffer zones.
On Monday, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that SNP MSP John Mason was wrong to claim clinics “push abortion without laying out the pros and cons” in an email he wrote to Back Off Scotland organisers.
In recent months, Mason has come under fire for his defence of anti-abortion “vigils” outside hospitals where some activists have been seen holding signs saying “women do regret abortion”.
Tweeting about the subject at the weekend, he said clinics did not always ask women how they feel.
Sturgeon said she was “a passionate believer in a woman’s right to choose”.
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: “Police Scotland is a rights-based organisation that puts our values of integrity, fairness, respect and a commitment to upholding human rights at the heart of everything we do.
“We have a duty under the European Convention on Human Rights to protect the rights of people who wish to peacefully protest or counter-protest balanced against the rights of the wider community.”