A COUNCILLOR has called for support from the police and NHS to help protect women from being intimidated by anti-abortion protesters.
Green Cllr Claire Miller put forward the introduction of a buffer zone outside the Chalmers Centre on Lauriston Place after women attending medical appointments were allegedly subjected to “massively intimidating” situations by peaceful pro-life demonstrators. The clinic offers a range of services, including terminations and support following sexual assault.
Health chiefs said it was “unacceptable” for anyone to “harass or intimidate” medical patients.
The proposals hit a stumbling block after council officers said Edinburgh City Council did not have the powers held by English local authorities to create buffer or safe zones for people attending medical appointments. Measures are available to other public bodies. Cllr Miller is confident that working with other authorities will bring about a solution to protect those attending medical services.
She said: “I would like to move it forward, looking at it as a multi-agency approach, including with the NHS and also people like the police.
“The next step will be to work with partners. It’s not ideal, but we just need to build the evidence and have a robust way of presenting it.”
Ealing Council in London became the first local authority in the UK to use anti-social behaviour laws to create buffer zones outside abortion clinics. The Green councillor wants patients in Edinburgh to be offered the same protection.
Cllr Miller said: “I think it’s massively important to offer some sort of protection.
“There’s all sorts of different services provided there, not just terminations, but a whole range of services. I don’t think some people realise what it can be like for these people. It can be massively intimidating.
“In the past, police have been reluctant to move on the demonstrators because they need to be quite fair about what freedom of speech they allow. This is why we need to get people in together and work closely with our partners.”
NHS Lothian has backed the calls for more protection to be given to patients accessing medical services.
Professor Alison McCallum, director of public health at NHS Lothian, said: “NHS Lothian is concerned that patients must be able to access healthcare without discrimination or intimidation.
“While we accept that members of the public have a right to peaceful, legitimate protest in an appropriately designated area, it is not acceptable for anyone to obstruct, harass or intimidate NHS patients, staff and those who live and work in the area.”
Cllr Miller’s original motion was unanimously backed by all members of the council’s south-east locality committee.
A Police Scotland spokeswoman said: “Our priority is to keep people safe and we urge organisers of events to engage and plan such activity in partnership with us.”