Abortion summit Scotland: Warm words lacking in action or signs of progress?

Promises to fix abortion care in Scotland are all well and good, but women are still suffering.

A positive atmosphere was apparent when MSPs and campaigners began chatting after the Scottish Government’s abortion summit.

The First Minister was defiant and strong in her words against anti-abortion protests as she spoke to a crowd of around 40 representatives ranging from politicians to medical and legal experts, and campaign groups.

Speaking from a place of seeming determination, Nicola Sturgeon said she was ready to “dig into” a legal battle to get nation-wide buffer zone law through Holyrood.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks during a summit on abortion care held at Hilton Edinburgh Carlton hotel (Photo: Lesley Martin/PA Wire).

In the short term, a “test council” will consider buffer zone legislation via local council by-laws, which will set a precedent for further councils to follow.

Ms Sturgeon also committed to a follow-up summit once the Supreme Court has provided an update on Ireland's buffer zone legislation expected mid next month.

The First Minister offered a sense of hope and progress after groups such as Back Off Scotland and Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon previously criticised the Government for a “lack of action”.

“There is much more of a collaborative sense and we feel more heard,” said Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland, which is campaigning to implement 150m buffer zones.

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However, people cannot walk away from this summit knowing women’s healthcare access is safe.

When it comes to immediate action, it is difficult to tell when this will be.

Cosla previously sought legal advice stating buffer zones via council bylaws would be ‘unlawful’ – a difficult hurdle to overcome.

Gillian Mackay’s Bill on national buffer zones is still going through consultation.

Rachael Clarke from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: “We went into it thinking warm words and it was really good to hear that from the First Minister.

"But the words aren’t the solution here. Women need action and some of that is long-term legislation, but we need something in the meantime.

“It’s great more people are paying attention, but the Scottish Government always says ‘we need more time looking at it’, when we have been doing so for ages.”

Another large series of anti-abortion protests is staged for September and, as talks go on, more women will yet suffer.

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