Nicola Sturgeon made the right call backing buffer zones in programme for government, writes Back Off Scotland's Lucy Grieve

During Tuesday’s Programme for Government, Nicola Sturgeon announced a number of significant policy commitments aimed at tackling the cost of living crisis. Whilst the proposals for emergency legislation to freeze rent and ban evictions rightly hit the headlines, other significant pledges slipped under the radar, writes Back Off Scotland co-founder, Lucy Grieve.

Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland who are campaigning for the implementation of anti-abortion protest buffer zones around abortion provider facilities .
Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland who are campaigning for the implementation of anti-abortion protest buffer zones around abortion provider facilities .

One of these commitments was to formally support and provide government resources to Gillian Mackay MSP’s ‘buffer zone’ Bill that would see anti-harassment zones enacted around medical facilities providing abortion services throughout the country.

Only months out from the overturning of Roe v. Wade in the United States, and following an uptick in anti-choice activity outside sexual health clinics and hospitals across the UK, I am relieved Scotland looks set to introduce this legislation and bolster our abortion rights.

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I believe it is important to note, however, this commitment has not been easy to secure.

Since co-founding Back Off Scotland two years ago as a student - with the aim of ensuring the implementation of buffer zones throughout Scotland – it has been a long road to achieve government backing.

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After campaigning for national legislation for over 10 months, the 2021 Programme for Government was released last September with a commitment to support a local authority approach to establishing the zones through byelaws. In weeks following this, we met with the Women’s Health Minister who told us that the government would not support a national approach due to fear of legal challenge – essentially passing the burden on to local councils.

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Two weeks after that meeting, legal counsel for the Scotland’s local authority governing body ‘COSLA’ stated the use of byelaws would be “unlawful”, and a game of ping-pong between COSLA and the Scottish Government ensued.

But just when it seemed the stalemate would never be broken, the First Minister intervened. In June she responded to our calls for a summit to bring together a range of stakeholders. At the event she listened carefully, asked astute questions, and at the end of the meeting, confirmed her support for national legislation.

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I am hugely grateful to the First Minister for this, and I truly believe that her heart is in the right place. Her leadership on this has undoubtedly paved the way for politicians to talk more openly about historically controversial topics like abortion, and I am sure her words will go far in reducing the stigma.

In many ways, this mirrors the path that Monica Lennon’s Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill took. After an initial lukewarm reception by the Scottish Government, it was not until Nicola Sturgeon saw the far-reaching potential of the Bill that the SNP put their weight behind it. Monica Lennon’s Bill was the first of its kind, and has since been used as a blueprint in countries across the globe looking to reduce inequality by eradicating period poverty - it is truly an area in which Scotland is world-leading.

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I am confident that - if this year’s Programme for Government is anything to go by – Scotland’s feminist policy-making will deliver for women in the months and years to come. With the full legal might and resources of the government behind us, we must turn our focus towards making a bill robust enough to withstand any possibilities of legal challenge.

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