Buffer zones: Calls for Nicola Sturgeon to intervene as Scottish Government 'inaction emboldening anti-abortion protesters', says Monica Lennon

Campaigners and MSPs are calling on Nicola Sturgeon to intervene and introduce buffer zones as an anti-abortion protest sees over a hundred people gather outside Glasgow’s flagship hospital.

Campaigners have said the women’s health minister Maree Todd “must step aside” if she does not fulfil calls to protect women’s rights in accessing healthcare.

It comes as over 100 anti-abortion protestors gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Sunday.

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Monica Lennon MSP told The Scotsman Ms Todd needs to “show some humility” as she called on First Minister Nicola Sturgeon “to ensure buffer zones are being discussed at cabinet level”.

Monica Lennon MSP has said the "Scottish Government inaction" is "emboldening anti-abortion protestors" as campaign group Back Off Scotland continues to call for 150 m buffer zone around abortion clinics.

Ms Lennon added “Government inaction” is “emboldening anti-abortion protesters” as campaign group Back Off Scotland continues its call for 150m buffer zones to be implemented around maternity units.

Lucy Grieve, co-founder and director of the group said: “We know these protests have been going on unchallenged by the Scottish Government since the late 1990s and we’re basically finding ourselves in situation where it’s getting worse.

"There’s been evidence in 2018 the largest anti-choice protest in the UK outside a clinic was in that same spot. That’s a tangible situation we are going to face.

"This was in the SNP manifesto and the women’s health plan. I don’t think the women’s health minister is fulfilling her mandate which is to protect women’s health and protect the right to accessing healthcare. This is her jurisdiction and if she’s not up to it she has to step aside.”

Over 100 anti-abortion protestors gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow on Sunday (Photo: Back Off Scotland).

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Countless women seeking abortions have talked to Back Off Scotland about their “really horrible accounts”, including women who have had to terminate “much-wanted” pregnancies for medical reasons to save their own lives.

Ms Grieve said: "They are going in for this procedure and from the maternity ward unit they can see the protesters and they can hear chanting and prayer recitals.

"Midwives have also said they have to go in every morning and face this harassment.”

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

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.

Ms Lennon who chairs the cross-party group on women’s health issues in Parliament said: "It’s really disappointing that the Scottish Government hasn’t taken any action.

"People might not have been hurt physically by this yet but they have been hurt emotionally and mentally and the Scottish Government needs to tackle responsibility for that.”

The health minister previously claimed councils can enact by-laws to ban certain protests. However COSLA, the governing body for local councils, sought legal advice which said it would need to come from the Scottish Government.

Ms Lennon said: “It’s really clear from the legal advice COSLA have obtained that local by-laws are not the answer and that’s why a national approach is so necessary.

"There is a stand off between local government and the Scottish Government and in the meantime women who need to access abortion healthcare are falling through the gaps.”

Ms Todd said she has convened a working group with COSLA, Police Scotland, councils and health boards to find an “appropriate way forward” to deal with protests.

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