Abortion buffer zones bill passed overwhelmingly by MSPs

The Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill was agreed by 118 votes to one at its final stage in the Scottish Parliament.

Scottish Greens abortion buffer zones bill passed overwhelmingly at Holyrood STV News

Anti-abortion protesters will no longer be allowed to gather within 200 metres of hospitals and clinics after MSPs overwhelmingly passed legislation on buffer zones.

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill passed by 118 votes to one on Wednesday, with SNP MSP John Mason voting against it.

Greens MSP Gillian Mackay, who brought forward the private members’ bill, hailed the passing as a “historic moment” for women’s rights.

MSP Gillian Mackay said it was a 'historic moment' for women's rights in Scotland.Getty Images

It means protests and vigils will not be able to take place within 200 metres of hospitals and clinics where terminations are carried out.

Those against the bill expressed concerns over its impact on freedom of religion while others argued for an exclusion of silent prayer.

Mackay said the bill would protect women’s dignity and privacy.

She told MSPs: “This is for women and medical professionals who have endured protests amid disgraceful scenes in the past while accessing health care, and for all those who may need to go do so in the future.

“It also carves into history the work and support of others including Back Off Scotland, health organisations and unions including the STUC Women’s Committee, BPAS, and so many more, and trailblazing Irish Green Clare Bailey.

“Without their determination, support and courage that day may never have come. “

She added: “Today’s vote means never again should a woman have to be stripped of her dignity, privacy or emotion in opting to have an abortion.

“It enshrines her right to do so, and to do so without fear or intimidation. 

“A woman’s right to decide what happens to her body is no-one else’s business but her own and that is the message being sent loud and clear across Scotland tonight.”

With the Scottish Government having backed the legislation, women’s health minister Jenni Minto praised the Green MSP, saying Ms Mackay had “championed this issue with grace and compassion”.

The minister added: “This Bill is a vital step in ensuring the safety, dignity and privacy of individuals seeking abortion services, as well as that of the dedicated healthcare professionals who provide them.

“This is incredibly significant.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher: “Today isn’t a debate about abortion. Members will rightly have their views on abortion, and all views are valid. But it is not for today.

“Today’s debate is about women and their right of access to healthcare safely.

“Because women shouldn’t feel threatened or intimidated, especially when they are going through one of the most difficult and traumatising times.”

Meanwhile, Labour’s Carol Mochan said: “It has long been the view of my party that Scotland should pass this legislation to ensure safe access to healthcare for women.

“It is right that we take all steps necessary to protect women accessing abortion services, and I do believe the introduction of safe access zones will achieve this.

“The truth is access to abortion clinics is access to healthcare.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart added that without buffer zones “too many women seeking to access abortion services in Scotland are forced to cross a picket line to access medical treatment”.

Adding that healthcare staff working in these clinics were “also exposed to these protests every working day” she said: “Scottish Liberal Democrats are clear no one should have to cross a picket line to access medical treatment, and that no health staff should be targeted for doing their jobs.”

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) chief of staff, said they were “delighted” the Bill had been passed and buffer zones would become law in Scotland.

Clarke said: “Nobody deserves to experience fear, intimidation or harassment when accessing or providing abortion care, and it’s positive that Scotland has now joined the rest of the UK in getting this vital safeguard on the statute books.”

Back Off Scotland co-founder Lucy Grieve said: “It’s wonderful that after four long years of campaigning, the day has finally come and safe access zones have been officially passed into law.

“This has been a hard-fought campaign, and I’d like to pay tribute to Alice Murray and Lily Robertson who both put their head above the parapet in the early days of our campaign to bravely share their own stories of facing anti-abortion activists at the doors of sexual health clinics.

“Without Alice and Lily, we would not have been able to give a voice to the so many women, abortion providers, and others who have been impacted by this harassment.”

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill will need to receive royal assent before it becomes law.

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