A Green MSP is seeking to change the law to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics so women can end a pregnancy “without fear of harassment”.
Central Scotland MSP Gillian Mackay hopes to introduce a member’s bill to Holyrood to make the change.
She announced the plans in a debate in the Scottish Parliament, saying: “I believe that everyone should be able to access healthcare unimpeded, and that no one should face harassment or intimidation while doing so.”
Councils have complained they do not have the power to introduce buffer zones, which would prevent pro-life campaigners gathering outside clinics where abortion is performed.
Mackay said there is also a risk that leaving it to local authorities to act creates the risk of a “postcode lottery, whereby some women are able to access abortion services without fear of harassment, but others are not”.
She added: “I believe that a national approach is required.
“I am therefore very pleased to announce my intention to lodge a member’s bill on buffer zones around abortion clinics.
“I will be honoured to take forward such important legislation and I intend to consult with a wide range of individuals and groups to hear their thoughts on the Bill’s proposals.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton backed the move, saying that allowing demonstrations or vigils could leave women “feeling embarrassed and shunned” at a time when they needed to be supported.
He said: “I am sure none of us here in this chamber are comfortable with the knowledge that thousands of people in Scotland are faced with intimidation and shame at a time when they need support and empathy more than ever.”
But SNP MSP John Mason said he believes life begins at conception, and argued that “someone has a duty to speak up for the baby, who has no voice”.
He said he had visited a “gathering” three years ago outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, saying there were “perhaps a dozen people there at the most” and “much of the time was spend quietly saying prayers”.
He added: “There was nothing that could really be called a protest, in my opinion, and certainly nothing loud or aggressive or even close to harassment, intimidation or abuse.”
Women’s health minister Maree Todd said: “The Scottish Government does not feel that a national ban is an option.”
She stressed that “women in Scotland should have access to abortion services as part of routine care, available free from stigma”.
The protests can mean “some women are reporting feeling harassed or intimidated when accessing these services”, she added, but there are “no easy solutions”, and action must be “proportionate” and in line with the rights of people taking part in vigils and protests.
“We do need to recognise the rights of people to protest peacefully and to express their views,” Todd said.
With protests usually only taking place in a “limited number of locations” in Edinburgh and Glasgow, she said: “The Scottish Government does not consider that imposing blanket buffer zones around all abortion clinics would be appropriate.”
The minister added that local by-laws would be “the most appropriate way to tackle this issue”.