Anti-abortion buffer zones to be introduced in England and Wales despite 'disgraceful' SNP abstaining from vote

Scottish campaigners have welcomed the news of buffer zones passing in England and Wales, however, they have named the SNP MPs’ abstention on the vote an “utter disgrace”.

Buffer zones across England and Wales will see anti-abortion protests moved further away from health clinics and hospitals as campaigners call for Scotland 'to be next' in implementing such measures (Picture: John Devlin).
Buffer zones across England and Wales will see anti-abortion protests moved further away from health clinics and hospitals as campaigners call for Scotland 'to be next' in implementing such measures (Picture: John Devlin).

An amendment allowing for the introduction of nationwide buffer zones around abortion clinics in England and Wales passed in the UK Parliament by 297 Ayes to 110 Nos.

The move comes after women told of facing harassment and intimidation from anti-abortion protestors outside clinics.

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Welcoming the news, Lucy Grieve, co-founder of campaign group Back Off Scotland, said: “We’re absolutely delighted to see nationwide buffer zones voted in at Westminster today. Not only does this show the true scope of cross-party support on the issue, but it also sets a precedent for Gillian Mackay MSP’s forthcoming bill here in Scotland. We’ve always been clear that this is a healthcare access matter and are elated to know that as a result of today’s vote, the harassment and intimidation taking place outside facilities in England and Wales is going to end once and for all.”

However, despite the SNP’s support for introducing similar legislation in Scotland, it is understood SNP MPs abstained from voting on the issue on Tuesday.

An SNP spokesperson said: "Healthcare is a devolved issue and the Scottish Government is taking the necessary action to create buffer zones to protect people in Scotland, and improve access to all healthcare services for women in Scotland."

However, despite the zones legislation excluding Scotland, Scottish women will be affected by the decision as Scotland can only provide abortions up to 20 weeks. Those seeking later abortions up to the 24-week limit have to travel to England. The paper revealed this year that since 2019, 170 Scottish women have been sent across the border into England to have an abortion.

Their decision to abstain has been met with significant criticism, including from the campaign group who named the decision on the vote an “utter disgrace.”

Ms Grieve said: “I personally reached out to multiple SNP MPs this afternoon with a plea to help us get this vote passed. It’s an utter disgrace that not only did they not respond, they also abstained despite the fact Scottish women have to run the gauntlet of protestors when they travel to England for provision they can’t get locally.”

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Rachael Clarke from the British Pregancy Advisory Service said: “We were disappointed to see the SNP abstain on the amendment at a time BPAS is providing care for Scottish women at clinics hard-hit by anti-abortion protests - but thankfully MPs from across the UK turned out to ensure these women will be protected.

"No Scottish woman should have to face anti-abortion harassment - whether that's in a clinic in Glasgow, or a clinic in London. That is what BPAS will always work for."

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The SNP-led Scottish Government is currently supporting Green MSP Gillian Mackay with the development of her member’s bill which hopes bring in legislation to create safe access zones for those accessing abortion services in Scotland.

Monica Lennon MSP, who supports the national legislation on buffer zones said the SNP “must reflect very hard” on their decision to abstain.

The Labour MSP said: “At a time when safe access to abortion healthcare is being undermined across the UK and in many parts of the world, it’s disappointing and worrying that SNP MPs did not vote in favour of buffer zones.

“Women who have to travel from Scotland to England to access abortion services should have been able to rely on their MPs."

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