US anti-abortion group creating 'gauntlet of harassment' at Scots clinics

The group, named 40 Days of Life, say they are 'praying to end abortion' but campaigners say their actions are intimidating to patients.

US-based anti-abortion group start 40 days of protest at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

A US-based anti-abortion group has begun 40 days of protest outside a Glasgow hospital.

The demonstrations have been described as a “gauntlet of harassment” by those in favour of buffer zones around health facilities to protect women seeking abortion services from intimidation.

The 40 days of life group, which has its roots in Texas, seeking to “pray to end abortion”, have coordinated the action outside Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The demonstrations, in which members hold placards and banners attempting to sway women from accessing abortion, are set to last until April 2.

Similar protests have been taking place outside medical centres and sexual health clinics across Scotland.

Those involved in the demonstrations have previously denied any accusation of harassment or intimidation towards patients.

It comes as a bill introducing 150-metre safe access zones, or ‘buffer zones’, around health facilities across Scotland is currently making its way through parliament.

The legislation was brought forward by the Scottish Greens health spokesperson Gillian Mackay MSP.

The Bill has received backing from the Scottish Government as well as the British Medical Association (Scotland) and the Royal College of GPs.

Over 12,000 people responded to a consultation on the Bill.

Back Off Scotland, a campaign group which has been highlighting the need for buffer zones across Scotland, has condemned their actions.

The group claim 40 Days of Life protesters have covered up posters advocating support for abortion healthcare at the hospital.

In a Tweet the group said: “Protesters outside abortion facilities often cite freedom of speech as the main reason why they won’t stop harassing patients.

“In an interesting twist, they have now covered supportive, pro-choice signs by the QEUH entrance.

“Freedom of speech, but only when it benefits them.”

The statement was echoed by Dr Greg Irwin an NHS Consultant in Children’s Hospital who urged people not to retaliate with their own demonstrations.

He said: “Please don’t counter protest at QEUH! Research [by academic Dr Pam Lowe] shows women coming to the hospital just see a bigger mass of protestors, worse if the police are involved.”

He added: “I wish there was a way to show women attending QEUH for abortion healthcare today, that they will be treated with compassion and respect, with professional support to make their best choice

“Instead they have to run the gauntlet of these heartless protestors.”

Following the commencement of action from 40 Days of Life on Wednesday, Mackay said: “These protests are a disgraceful attempt to intimidate people out of accessing healthcare. Some of the protesters carry very graphic banners and other protests have seen loudspeakers and megaphones.  

“It will be a 40 day gauntlet of harassment. It is utterly unacceptable and has no place in a modern and progressive Scotland.  

“How can we talk about rights and equality when people are being intimidated like this?  

“Abortion rights are human rights. Yet, all over our country, far too many people are having to manoeuvre their way past groups of campaigners.”

Gillian Mackay, MSP

She added: “My consultation received over 12,000 responses, which shows the depth of feeling. My Bill has also received the support for the Scottish Government.  

“Some of the stories that people have shared with me have been really harrowing and- shocking, and have underlined why this Bill is so vital.  

“I hope that this is the last year that we see these protests. The introduction of buffer zones will set an important precedent and will be a watershed moment for reproductive rights in Scotland.”

STV News has contacted 40 Days of Life for comment.

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