Sturgeon chairs summit of abortion clinic buffer zones after ‘very wrong’ protests

Prime Minister Nicolas Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon will chair a roundtable summit to develop plans for buffer zones to be established outside abortion clinics despite the risks of legal challenges.

The First Secretary gave the needed pledge after Monica Lennon pressed the issue after pressure from activists.

Concerns have been raised about intimidation of women by protesters outside health care facilities that also provide abortions, with the former foreign minister asking anti-abortion activists to demonstrate outside Parliament instead.

Calls have been made to create buffer zones outside clinics, but a similar measure proposed in Northern Ireland has been referred to the High Court after a legal challenge.

Speaking in the First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon insisted that “a woman has the right to access abortion without fear or intimidation”, adding that demonstrating outside health care facilities was “absolutely wrong”.

She added, “I am very supportive of the introduction of the buffer zones, and the government is actively studying how this parliament can legislate in an effective manner that is also able to withstand legal challenges.

“Members will understand that the Buffer Zones Act passed in Northern Ireland has recently been referred to the High Court. The result may be relevant to any steps we take here.

“In the meantime, while we consider and hopefully resolve issues related to national legislation, we will support any local authority that wishes to use bylaws to create buffer zones.”

Turning to the invitations for her to chair a summit on these issues, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am very pleased to have convened a meeting and will personally chair a round table to discuss the buffer zones and any other matters that need to be addressed to ensure safe and timely access to abortion services in Scotland within the current law.”

Ms. Lennon said she “warmly welcomes the Prime Minister’s agreement to hold an urgent summit called by more than a dozen women’s organizations”.

She added: “Her personal commitment to chairing the talks and facilitating the work of politicians, activists and healthcare experts together is paramount and I thank her for that.

“While operational police matters are the matters of Police Scotland, would you agree that it is important for any member of the public to feel harassed or intimidated when seeking access to health care for abortion or to give them confidence that if they make any complaints to the police, that they will be investigated? With them right?”

Scottish Greens MSB Gillian Mackay, who is expected to introduce the members’ bill on buffer zones, cited the rowdy protests outside the Sanford Clinic in Glasgow yesterday, as the latest example of the growing problem of intimidation outside health care facilities.

Ms Mackay said: “The loud protests outside the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow yesterday are just the latest to be held outside healthcare facilities.

“Not only do these protests intimidate the many people using these services, but I understand that they have forced the clinic to close certain rooms on one side of the building due to the amplification system the protesters were using.

“My buffer zone members bill would restrict protest outside healthcare settings. It is time we make sure that everyone who needs access to abortion services can do so without being intimidated and harassed.”

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