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Abortion clinic buffer zone law, supported by the MSP committee

Vaseline 3 months ago

Image caption, Pro-life demonstrations have been held outside locations including the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow

A bill to ban protests outside abortion clinics is necessary to ensure women are free from harassment, a Holyrood committee has said.

Green Party MSP Gillian Mackay introduced a bill to the Scottish Parliament last year that would block all protests taking place within 200 meters of clinics.

The Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow is one of several locations targeted by pro-life group 40 Days for Life.

Ms Mackay has said the protests amounted to “targeted harassment” of women having abortions.

The bill proposes that pro-life campaigners would be fined if they enter the 200 meter zone – with unlimited fines for serious offences.

A report published by the committee said it had considered “the competing human rights arguments” relevant to the bill.

But it concluded they were “proportionate” to the objectives of the legislation to ensure women could safely access healthcare.

He described protests by anti-abortion groups outside medical facilities as “unacceptable.”

Silent prayers

The committee’s MSPs acknowledged the concerns of opponents of the bill, who said the proposals threatened their freedom to express their views in public spaces.

MSPs also questioned why the bill proposes a safe access zone of 200 metres, rather than the 150 meters recommended by experts.

An exception would be Queen Elizabeth University Hospital, which may need to have its radius increased due to its layout.

During the evidence-gathering process, the committee heard concerns that police might find it difficult to determine whether the law had been broken by those performing silent prayers.

The report said committee MSPs had a “difference of view” on the issue of silent prayers, with some suggesting this should be an explicit exception to prevent the “criminalization of private thoughts”.

Meanwhile, others said silent prayers “can still be intimidating” for those seeking abortion services. The committee therefore recommended further discussion of this issue in phase two.

Image source, Getty Images

Image caption, Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay presented her membership bill in Holyrood last year

MSPs also heard from doctors working in facilities that provide abortion services, who expressed concerns that protests outside the premises could lead to patients delaying treatment or being denied access.

Women who had used the services also reported anxiety.

The bill will now go through the Scottish Parliament for a first stage vote.

Committee chair Clare Haughey said the cross-party group of MSPs were united in supporting the bill.

‘Appropriate balance’

“We recognize the strong views it has generated and that not everyone is in favor of its introduction,” she said.

“But ultimately, we believe that creating safe access zones around abortion services is necessary to enforce the principle that everyone should have access to health care, free from harassment or intimidation.

“We understand that there are competing human rights at play, but we have concluded that this bill strikes an appropriate balance.

“We have had extensive discussions on the issue of silent prayer and while some members felt that it should be exempt from the provisions of this bill, other members felt that an exemption would fundamentally undermine its purpose and that silent prayer could be intimidating for those accessing services.

“This will need to be further considered if the bill progresses to phase two.”