Holyrood passes ‘seismic’ legislation to bring in abortion buffer zones

New laws will ban protesters from gathering outside clinics

Holyrood has overwhelmingly passed new laws to introduce buffer zones banning protesters from gathering outside clinics where abortions are carried out, with the MSP who brought the legislation saying it would have a “seismic” impact on women.

Green MSP Gillian Mackay spoke as MSPs voted in favour of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill by 118 votes to one.

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MSPs from all parties backed the legislation, which will see 200-metre zones set up at 30 sites across Scotland where anti-abortion protesters are barred from gathering.

Buffer zones would see anti-abortion protests moved further away from health clinics and hospitals. Picture: John DevlinBuffer zones would see anti-abortion protests moved further away from health clinics and hospitals. Picture: John Devlin
Buffer zones would see anti-abortion protests moved further away from health clinics and hospitals. Picture: John Devlin

The vote means Scotland follows other parts of the UK in introducing such legislation.

Only SNP backbencher John Mason voted against the new law, but Ms Mackay said that now her Bill was passed the “protection will be seismic for women and staff” at abortion clinics.

“We should never downplay the individual difference it will make,” she told Holyrood.

She stressed the Bill was about “protecting women’s access to healthcare” as she hailed campaigners, such as those at Back Off Scotland, who had spoken out against the protests and the impact they can have.

Ms Mackay said her legislation had “began with the strength of women and staff who had the courage to say enough was enough and then to demand change”.

She added: “I know that wasn’t easy, and I know it must have sometimes felt they were fighting a losing battle.

“But today I hope they see those efforts pay off and know what a huge part they have played in achieving protection for women and staff for years to come.

“That protection will be seismic for women and staff.”

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She added: “Today’s vote means never again should a woman have to be stripped of her dignity, privacy or emotion in opting to have an abortion.

“It enshrines her right to do so, and to do so without fear or intimidation.

“A woman’s right to decide what happens to her body is no-one else’s business but her own and that is the message being sent loud and clear across Scotland tonight.”

With the Scottish Government having backed the legislation, women’s health minister Jenni Minto praised the Green MSP, saying Ms Mackay had “championed this issue with grace and compassion”.

The minister added: “This Bill is a vital step in ensuring the safety, dignity and privacy of individuals seeking abortion services, as well as that of the dedicated healthcare professionals who provide them.

“This is incredibly significant.”

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher: “Today isn’t a debate about abortion. Members will rightly have their views on abortion, and all views are valid. But it is not for today.

“Today’s debate is about women and their right of access to healthcare safely.

“Because women shouldn’t feel threatened or intimidated, especially when they are going through one of the most difficult and traumatising times.”

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Meanwhile, Labour’s Carol Mochan said: “It is right that we take all steps necessary to protect women accessing abortion services, and I do believe the introduction of safe access zones will achieve this.”

Rachael Clarke, chief of staff at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS) chief of staff, said they were “delighted” the Bill had been passed and buffer zones would become law in Scotland.

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