MSPs overwhelmingly back abortion clinic buffer zone Bill

Holyrood overwhelmingly backed Green MSP Gillian Mackay's Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill.

A proposed new law to create buffer zones outside abortion clinics, preventing protesters from gathering there, means women will no longer have to run a “gauntlet of disapproval and judgment”, the MSP behind the legislation has insisted.

Green MSP Gillian Mackay spoke out as Holyrood overwhelmingly backed her Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill.

If passed, the legislation would prevent anti-abortion protesters from gathering within 200 metres of hospitals and other facilities where terminations are carried out.

MSPs approved the general principles of the legislation by 123 votes to one, and will go on to consider now what changes need to be made.

Speaking in the debate at Holyrood, Mackay insisted: “This Bill is not about the right or wrongs of abortion. It is about the right and ability of patients to access care without running a gauntlet of disapproval and judgment.”

She said the change in the law was needed to give women attending for abortions “the same dignity and privacy they would at every other medical procedure”.

And she added her Bill was a “proportionate means” of protecting women and staff from protests which could have “profound consequences”.

The legislation has already attracted support from all parties within Holyrood, though SNP backbencher John Mason voiced his opposition.

Telling how he had twice visited anti-abortion “vigils” outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow, he insisted they involved mainly older people “quietly reading or praying” who offered “support” to women.

Mason, who was the only MSP to vote against the Bill, said: “There is very little evidence of harassment or intimidation near abortion facilities.”

He added: “With the number of abortions in Scotland rising to over 16,000 in 2022 it does not appear people are being put off by vigils or protests.”

But Scottish Tory deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: “This Bill in my opinion is about women and creating safe access to healthcare where they don’t feel intimidated or harassed, and I think that is a reasonable ask.”

She said: “For me, it is about making sure women have that safe access to these clinics, that is the fundamental principle of the Bill.”

Similarly Labour’s Carol Mochan stated: “The truth is that access to abortion clinics is access to healthcare, and we cannot continue to condone the intimidation of women accessing healthcare they are so rightfully entitled to.”

Meanwhile, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton told MSPs: “It boils down to this – nobody should be forced to cross a picket line to access intimate medical care.”

He added: “All this Bill seeks to do is ensure anyone accessing medical care can do without harassment or fear or judgment, it seeks to safeguard their basic right to medical privacy.”

With the Scottish Government also backing the legislation, women’s health minister Jenni Minto told MSPs that she was “confident the Bill is the best way to provide the protection women and staff need” at abortion clinics.

She added that the Bill showed how MSPs “can unite across all party lines when we are motivated by a greater good – in this case, to protect the dignity and privacy of women accessing vital healthcare and those providing it”.

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