Campaigners issue fresh call for buffer zones after surge in abortion rates

The ‘Back Off Scotland’ campaign is demanding the Scottish Government bring in buffer zones at clinics across the country after a surge in abortion rates.

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Figures released this week show 13,815 terminations were carried out in Scotland in 2020, up more than 200 since last year. The number of abortions in Scotland last year was the second highest on record.

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Most women who had terminations in the past year were aged between 20 and 24 years old and women from the most deprived 20 per cent of areas were more than twice as likely to have an abortion.

Back Off Scotland said the figures are a stark reminder that thousands of women accessing services at clinics across Scotland need access free from harassment by pro-life groups.

The campaign group started by Edinburgh University students said protests are a threat to both privacy and a woman's right to access legal medical services.

Anti-abortion campaigners say their aim is to support women to make a different choice but many women have said that they felt intimidated by them.

Council chiefs in Edinburgh agreed to back their proposals following their 4800 signature petition to secure buffer zones around clinics in the capital.

But the group’s move to do the same in Glasgow has been blocked by the council who claim they don’t have powers to act.

Founder Lucy Grieve said: “These new figures show just how essential it is that all women are able to access abortion services without fear of harassment or intimidation. The majority of protests are outside hospitals and therefore vulnerable people are forced to pass them.”

Back Off Scotland argue a "patchwork” approach isn’t good enough and a national ban to keep protesters away from the gates is needed. Their calls are backed by British Pregnancy Advisory Service and the Humanist Society Scotland.

Ms Grieve added: “This is about safeguarding access to vital healthcare services, and it’s essential that the Scottish Government responds to calls to implement buffer zones nationally.”

"A patchwork framework with local authorities doing their own thing doesn’t work. Protesters will just move from one area to another. This requires national legislation.”

One university student who has had an abortion said: “These figures reflect the reality that everybody indeed does loves somebody who has had an abortion - 1 in 3 women in the UK will have an abortion by the time they are 45 years old. I’ve been through it, and I know first-hand how much of an impact these protests can have on the experience.

“With figures showing that the number of people getting abortion are the second highest in record, it is more important than ever that we take action now to ensure that those services are accessible without threat of harassment or intimidation.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “All women in Scotland should have access to safe and legal abortion services, and should not feel harassed or intimidated when accessing these services. Councils in Scotland have powers to make bye-laws, so these offer local authorities a means of imposing measures suited to local circumstances – and that may include measures to restrict protests or other gatherings where that’s appropriate.”

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