Buffer zones Scotland: 76 doctors back action over anti-abortion protests as 'women's healthcare at risk'

A group of 76 consultants have written to the Women’s Health Minister demanding action, following protests outside the maternity unit at Glasgow’s flagship hospital.

Doctors are calling on Maree Todd MSP to “show courage” and introduce protest free ‘buffer zones’ across all clinics providing abortion care in Scotland.

The action comes following a surge in anti-choice activity including a protest which saw over 100 people gather outside the Maternity Unit entrance at the Queen Elizabeth University hospital in Glasgow this week.

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The letter highlights the effects these protests are having on medical staff and their patients, calling the imitation and harassment “deplorable”.

It calls for the Scottish Government to follow the lead of the Northern Ireland Assembly, who passed a Safe Access Zones bill last month, and Spain, who last week legislated against harassment or intimidation of women, and the Australian Government, who introduced safe access measures in 2021.

For the last six years, patients at Glasgow’s flagship hospital have been subjected to anti-abortion protests by campaigners from the ‘pro-life’ group ‘40 Days for Life’.

In their letter, doctors state “the group seeks to restrict women’s access to healthcare”.

Backing the letter, Back Off Scotland, who have been calling for the implementation of 150 metre buffer zones since October 2020, said Ms Todd needed to “take swift action to introduce universal buffer zones around clinics to protect those accessing these services”.

40 Days For Life hold a Prayer Vigil outside Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow (Photo: John Devlin).

40 Days for Life claims their ‘vigil’ aims to act “as a call to repentance for those who work at the abortion center [sic] and those who patronise the facility”.

Following commitments in the SNP manifesto, the Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan, and the Programme for Government 2021/22, campaign group Back off Scotland and MSPs such as Monica Lennon have criticised the Women’s Health Minister for her inaction on the matter.

Ms Todd has said she condemns “in the strongest possible terms” any attempts to intimidate women accessing abortion services.

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Consultation on a member’s Bill brought forward by Green MSP Gillian Mackay to introduce buffer zones is currently being finalised and Ms Todd said she is working “constructively” with the Green MSP on bringing forward the bill.

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Dr Greg Irwin, lead signatory and Consultant Paediatric Radiologist in Glasgow, said: “We, as Consultants in the Children’s and the Maternity Hospitals, are seriously concerned about the anti-abortion protests occurring outside the QEUH. We know first-hand how distressing this harassment is for our patients, which makes it infuriating for us as clinical staff to have to pass these groups day-in-day-out.

“The protesters on Hardgate Road are as close as they can get to the maternity unit, meaning that our patients in the wards can see and hear them. These women may well be feeling vulnerable and upset. They should not have to put up with judgement or intimidation outside our hospital.

"Implementing buffer zones is essential to deal with this problem, both in Glasgow and throughout Scotland.

“We ask the Scottish Government, and the Women’s Health Minister particularly, to take action immediately to move these protesters away from our hospital doors. We have been watching our patients get bullied for far too long now. The women of Glasgow, the women of Scotland deserve better than this.”

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