Outrage as NHS Grampian rejects automatic provision of anti-abortion buffer zones across its facilities

A health board in Scotland has rejected the automatic provision of buffer zones across its facilities as it fears attention will be drawn through the implementation of the zones.

NHS Grampian said it supported the “principle of safe zones”. But in an email to campaign group Back Off Scotland, the health board said it did not want the zones implemented “automatically” around its facilities.

In February, Alice Murray from Back Off Scotland sent a letter to NHS Grampian asking if they would support the implementation of the zones to protect women from accessing healthcare.

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NHS Grampian only responded to the letter on Thursday.

NHS Grampian has said it does not want the automatic provision of buffer zones across its facilities (Photo: John Devlin).
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The response comes with the First Minister to convene a second abortion summit on August 29 as anti-abortion protests increase across Scotland.

Earlier this week, consultation for Green MSP Gillian Mackay's private members bill, calling on national implementation of 150-metre anti-abortion buffer zones, closed.

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Sarah Duncan, board secretary of NHS Grampian, said: “We are mindful of the need not to draw attention to facilities where protestors might not be gathering at the moment, so NHS Grampian would not want automatic provision of a buffer zone around all facilities as this would just draw attention to them.

"We can see the desirability of having a process to apply for a zone to be implemented if required.”

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Back Off Scotland said the health board’s stance was “absolutely disgraceful” and stressed NHS Grampian was doing a “disservice to patients and staff” by taking this stance.

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Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland said: “Abortion is a legal healthcare procedure, and protests taking place at the gates of healthcare facilities create real barriers to accessing care. We’ve heard from hundreds of women and staff across Scotland, including Aberdeen, who have been affected, having had to run the gauntlet of these anti-choice groups at clinics and hospitals.

"NHS Grampian’s position on safe access buffer zones is an absolute disgrace. Not only have they stated that harassment doesn’t occur in any of their locations, and ignored repeated requests to meet with patients who have experience of this, their position is now essentially, we don’t want people to know where we are providing abortions in NHS Grampian because it might encourage protestors to start targeting the sites.

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"This is clearly a reason in itself to legislate for buffer zones around all facilities that provide the services so that patients and staff aren’t targeted at any point in the future.”

Deena Tissera, a councillor who brought forward a motion for buffer zones to be implemented via local authority bylaw in Aberdeen, said the response from NHS Grampian was “very disappointing”.

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The Labour councillor said: “The NHS statement is inconsistent with the report that came out at the clinical care and governance committee on August 10, which said there is a ‘potential for risk’ of protestors being at site of abortion clinics that is not even known to the public. If the main priority is to protect women’s rights, then that should be applied to all abortion clinics."

An NHS Grampian spokeswoman said: "We are fully in support of the principle of safe access zones. While we recognise the right to peaceful protest, there is also the right of our service users to receive care without fear or intimidation.

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"We have suggested safe access zones not be automatically implemented, as this could advertise where abortion services are provided and draw protestors to those sites.

"We have had regular correspondence with Back Off Scotland and are open to continuing that dialogue with them."

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