Abortion campaigners want 150m buffer zones around clinics

Movement aims to support women who feel intimidated and harassed at sexual health clinics.

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Campaigners are calling for 150-metre buffer zones to be created around Scottish abortion clinics to deter anti-choice demonstrators.

The movement, which started in Edinburgh, is now being expanded to cover the whole of Scotland, with a nationwide petition launching next week.

It aims to support women who feel intimidated and harassed while going for procedures at sexual health clinics.

University student Alice Murray is passionate about the campaign after experiencing the protests first hand.

When she arrived at the Chalmers centre in Edinburgh for an abortion appointment in 2019, a group of pro-life campaigners were gathered nearby.

She told STV News: “Just their presence – it’s a small street, [with] six people there, it’s very hard to ignore.

“I felt angry that somebody would assume that I hadn’t thought through a decision, or that I wasn’t mature or sensible or knowledgeable enough to know what was right for my own body.

“It didn’t affect the way I felt about what I’d done, but you can’t say the same for every other person.”

Experiences like those sparked the creation of Back Off Chalmers, which has now expanded into the Back Off Scotland movement

The campaign is calling for 150m buffer zones to be placed around clinics to prevent this happening to anyone else.

Co-founders Emma Ahlert and Lucy Grieve say the issue extends across at least seven Scottish hospitals.

Ms Ahlert told STV News: “It all really stems from the belief that everyone deserves access to abortion services and reproductive and sexual healthcare, free from any sort of intimidation.”

Ms Grieve added: “This is not a anti-protest issue, this is not an anti-freedom of speech issue, fundamentally it’s an anti-harassment issue.”

The London Borough of Ealing became the first council in the UK to impose a buffer zone in 2019.

A recent poll from the Humanist Society found that four in five Scots (82%) would support similar action here. 

But Margaret Akers, of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said the “vigils” are a way of offering support to women.

“I’m sorry that people are made uncomfortable by it,” she said.

“Ultimately for those women who are in the peripheries, who fall through the cracks, and get a bit lost in the system, that’s the last lifeline they have, that’s the last opportunity they have to find another way.”

A petition calling for buffer zones in Edinburgh had attracted nearly 5000 signatures when it closed last month.

The nationwide petition will launch next Monday.