US pro-life campaigner brands Scottish Parliament Bill as 'bigotry'

Shawn Carney, of Texas-based 40 Days for Life, criticised the widely-supported buffer zone Bill set to be published.

US pro-life campaigner brands Scottish Parliament buffer zone Bill as ‘bigotry’ BBC

The Scottish Government does not have a duty to protect the feelings of the public, the head of an anti-abortion group has claimed.

Shawn Carney, the co-founder and chief executive of 40 Days for Life, rejected accusations his group had harassed women attempting to access abortions.

He claimed the move to block protesters from health sites was a form of “bigotry”.

Legislation to introduce buffer zones around health facilities offering abortion care is set to be published this month.

It is anticipated that the Bill, brought forward by Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay, will pass through Holyrood without issue due to cross-party support.

It comes after a number of campaigners highlighted women feeling intimidated and harassed as they walked past demonstrators at hospitals and clinics.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday Show, Mr Carney said: “It’s not our responsibility of how someone else feels, nor is it the responsibility of any government or any business to control the feelings of another.

“I know people don’t like 40 Days for Life, I’ve been over there, I had a lady curse me out in London.”

A journalist, Mr Carney said, asked him if he believed the woman should be “banned for free speech”, to which he replied: “No.”

He added: “Our feelings are hurt, what about the pro-life feelings of the Scots who go out there and now have their own Government, out of nowhere, after years of being peaceful, after years of not intimidating or harassing – really just made up words that are created around our efforts.

“After years of that, they are now being targeted – bigotry is the only appropriate word.”

Put to him that if someone feels as though they being harassed, then they are, Mr Carney replied: “How so? I mean, what crime has any 40 Days for Life volunteer made?

“That’s why it’s made up, we have a history of peaceful public discourse.”

Mr Carney said he was “looking at all options” when asked if his group would be likely to challenge the Bill in court.

His comments come despite opinion polls showing the vast majority of the people of Scotland are in favour of the Bill.

However, Mr Carney claimed the Scottish Government – who are in support of but not behind the legislation – were “using” such polls to justify cracking down on the free speech of those attending his group’s vigils.

“Any jurisdiction can do that,” he said.

“You can run polls and you can move people, you can eventually silence them, you can eventually ban them if you want.

“You can do that but you can’t do it and call yourself free.”

Alice Murray, one of the campaigners from Back Off Scotland, also appeared on the BBC programme.

She said she and her group, who have led calls for change, accept some are against abortion, but said: “It’s about moving them away from the clinic doors.

“I’m so happy for 40 Days For Life to give their message if that’s what they believe – we do need to protect freedom of speech in that way, but freedom of speech and freedom of assembly are qualified convention rights.

“You’re not entitled to an audience, you’re not entitled to say whatever you want whenever you want.

“All that we ask is that people don’t stand outside a clinic and act as a bar to healthcare.”

The Bill, she said, represents a “compromise”, adding that “we should be entitled” to challenge legislation legally.

In response to Mr Carney, Ms Mackay said: “People are and remain free to campaign for whatever changes in law they want. What they’re not free to do is harass and intimidate people seeking basic healthcare.

“We’ve seen people with loudhailers outside clinics, forcing the shut down of facilities. We’ve seen patients and staff being filmed as they enter and leave.

“We’ve seen those at their most vulnerable forced to run a gauntlet of abuse on their way to appointments.

“Nobody who has gone through this would recognise Mr Carney’s absurd claim that intimidation and harassment are ‘made up words’.

“Abortion is a right in Scotland, and my Safe Access Zones Bill will ensure that people remain free to exercise that right.”

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