A proposed law seeking to create safety buffer zones around health facilities has been published.
The Safe Access Zones Bill has been created in response to a rise in anti-abortion protesters outside clinics in recent years.
Gillian Mackay, the Green MSP for Central Scotland, is behind the law which was published on Friday with backing from the Scottish Government.
The legislation would introduce 200m “safe zones” around facilities where abortions are carried out, meaning anti-abortion campaigners must stand beyond the boundaries of the zones to demonstrate.
Under the Bill, health boards can apply to extend the distance of buffer zones on a case by case basis.
Campaigners have welcomed the Bill and say it will prevent women seeking abortion healthcare from facing harassment or intimidation.
However, anti-abortion groups say the Bill interferes with a right to freedom of expression.
Mackay said: “This is a milestone moment for protecting abortion rights in Scotland. We are a big step closer to delivering safe access zones and stopping the appalling harassment and abuse that we have seen.
“Nobody should be intimidated when accessing healthcare, and this bill will end the protests for good.”
Commenting on the publication of the Bill women’s health minister, SNP MSP Jenni Minto said: “I congratulate Gillian Mackay on her Bill. This is an important milestone towards seeking national legislation to protect women from unwanted influence, distress or alarm when accessing abortion services.
“The decision to access abortion services is an individual and personal choice which should not be subject to public demonstration or influence outside premises providing abortion services. It is unacceptable for women to face any fear of intimidation, harassment or unwanted influence when accessing essential healthcare services. It goes without saying that the same goes for healthcare staff doing their job.”
Minto said the Scottish Government were “grateful” to Mackay for her work on the legislation and will “ continue supporting her Member’s Bill as it makes its way through Parliament”.
She added: “This Bill is not an attempt to restrict freedom of expression, but to safeguard public health and protect the right of women to access healthcare without obstruction. The Bill is targeted at activity opposing abortion outside premises providing abortion services and will not limit the ability to oppose abortion in any other locations.”
The British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), who have been campaigning for buffer zones since 2014, welcomed the news on Friday.
BPAS chief of staff, Rachael Clarke, said: “We’re delighted that after years of hard work behind the scenes, the cross-party Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill has formally been introduced and today started its passage through the Scottish Parliament.
“BPAS has been fighting for this law for nearly a decade. We know first-hand from our own clinics how damaging the presence of anti-abortion groups are to both staff and service users. Nobody deserves to experience this kind of fear, shame, and distress when accessing legal and essential healthcare services.
“This bill will put a stop to the harassment and intimidation endured for far too long, and with the support of the Scottish Government, is a strong message to Whitehall to finally implement the buffer zones that Westminster put into law over five months ago.”
The news was also welcomed by the grassroots campaign group Back Off Scotland who said: “This day felt like it would never come sometimes, and we want to thank Gillian Mackay for her relentless work on this issue, and all who have been in touch with us over the years to share their very personal stories.”
The Bill will now be examined by a Scottish Parliamentary committee.
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