Campaign group Back Off Scotland 'disappointed' as Scottish Parliament Festival of Politics does not include abortion or women's health event

A group campaigning for anti-abortion protest buffer zones around clinics has voiced concerns as a Scottish political festival has not included events on abortion or reproductive rights.

The Scottish Parliament’s Festival of Politics is a three-day event consisting of talks which focus on “some of the issues that matter most to people in Scotland”.

The Festival will take place between Thursday 11 – Saturday 13 August in the Holyrood building as well as online.

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Issues such as the state of the UK union, the cost of living crisis, climate, migration and equality will all feature.

Anti-abortion campaigners protest outside Glasgow's superhospital (Photo: John Devlin).
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However, campaign group Back Off Scotland said the festival is missing an important issue impacting many women across the country and the world.

At the festival, there will be no event concerning abortion, reproductive rights or women’s health and the group is calling for The Scottish Parliament to change this.

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Their call comes as Scotland has seen a recent marked rise in anti-abortion protests across the country, with more protests from the group 40 Days for Life set to take place next month.

In April, over a hundred anti-abortion protesters gathered outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, with many women reporting they felt “traumatised” and “intimidated”.

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In a letter to the Scottish Parliament, Back Off Scotland named the exclusion “short-sighted” given the recent cross-party support for the introduction of anti-abortion protest buffer zones as well as the landmark overturning of Roe vs Wade in the US, robbing many of their rights to abortion care.

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Pointing to the lack of inclusion, the letter, written by co-founder of Back Off Scotland, Lucy Grieve, states: “This doesn't appear to be in line with your goal of ‘talking about some of the issues that matter most to people in Scotland’ - arguably this is one of the most important ones given the political landscape and the fact that one in three women will have an abortion in their lifetimes.

"Would there be capacity to run something about this?”

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The Scottish Government has confirmed they will host a second abortion care summit and discuss the introduction of protest buffer zones at local authority level this month.

In June, Nicola Sturgeon hosted the first summit on abortion care after campaign groups and politicians called for an emergency summit on the issue of harassment at abortion clinics.

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At the last summit, the First Minister said the Government was considering test councils, specifically Edinburgh and Glasgow, to implement 150m buffer zones to protect women from anti-abortion harassment.

Ms Grieve said she has spoken to a “number of attendees” of the summit who agreed it “seemed bizarre” no space has been made for this topic at the festival.

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Carol Mochan, Scottish Labour Women’s Health spokesperson agreed with Back Off Scotland that the exclusion was “disappointing” as women’s human rights are “overlooked once again”.

The Labour MSP said: “Across the world women are fighting for their right to access safe and legal abortion.“Here in Scotland too many women still face harassment and intimidation, as the SNP continue to drag their heels delivering buffer zones.

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“These are major political issues affecting women across Scotland, and it is disappointing to see women’s reproductive health and human rights being overlooked once again.”

The festival events on Thursday are held in conjunction with cross party groups and all groups were invited to put forward ideas for events.

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The Scottish Parliament said the topics for discussion on that day “reflect the ideas put forward”.

A Scottish Parliament spokesperson said: “The Festival of Politics tries to include a range of issues affecting people in Scotland – some of those included this year are racism, inequality, cost of living, climate change and also the views and experiences of those who have been in care.

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“Unfortunately during our three day Festival we can’t include every issue.”

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