Nicola Sturgeon says anti-abortion protests and Misogyny Report should be handled 'separately'

The First Minister said she is a “strong advocate” for pro-choice as she said a report looking to criminalise misogyny and buffer zones for anti-abortion protests should be considered “separately”.

Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to Barrowfield Community Centre (Photo:Jane Barlow/PA Wire).
Nicola Sturgeon during a visit to Barrowfield Community Centre (Photo:Jane Barlow/PA Wire).

The First Minister also threw her full backing behind Susan Aitken six days out from the local council elections, saying she backed the Glasgow council leader "100 per cent".

During a campaign visit in the East End of Glasgow, Ms Sturgeon said there should be “specific provisions” in criminal justice law that recognises and tackles misogyny.

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Her comments come following an outpouring of misogyny and sexual abuse claims from Westminster, including claims from Tory MPs that Angela Rayner “used her legs to distract” Boris Johnson in the Commons. International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan spoke of how she was “pinned up against a wall’ by a male MP and she had been subjected to “wandering hands” by “half a dozen” men in Westminster.

This week, Helena Kennedy QC told the Scottish Parliament there is a “current strong sense’ that misogyny must be tackled as she brought forward her Misogyny Report, looking to make misogyny a criminal offence.

The report, commissioned by the Scottish Government, was welcomed by the First Minister on its publication date on International Women’s Day in March.

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The First Minister told The Scotsman: “The whole report I think is really powerful so we have in principle accepted the recommendations and the justice secretary in recent days has said we will move to consult on draft legislation giving effect to those proposals."

Yet, asked if anti-abortion protests, which impact mainly women, should be criminalised, Ms Sturgeon said: “We are looking separately at whether we can and should have a change in the law to create buffer zones at hospitals where women go for abortions.

“There are some complex legal issues involved there and we’ve got a working group looking at that.”

This month, over 100 anti-abortion activists protested outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow which led to 76 doctors signing an open letter to Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd backing the implementation of 150m anti-abortion protest buffer zones.

The campaign group Back Off Scotland, calling for buffer zones, is urging the Scottish Government to introduce emergency legislation around the issue as they say these protests “threaten and traumatise” women’s access to healthcare.

Ms Sturgeon said the democratic right to protest had to be respected but added: "I think people protesting outside a hospital against abortion is wrong.

“I think there’s a strong case for buffer zones but I can’t magic away the legal complexities.”

Any laws which are passed need to “be compliant” with other areas such as the European Convention of Human Rights Act, according to the First Minister.

“I would like to see us move forward but it’s about how we do that in a way which is capable of standing up to any challenges,” she said.

It is understood Green MSP Gillian Mackay will publish a finalised draft of her Member’s Bill urging for the implementation of buffer zones by mid-May this year.

However, the implementation of buffer zones is not expected until next year.

During her campaigning in Glasgow, the First Minister said she had “100% faith” in Susan Aitken, adding: “I think she has done a good job in very difficult circumstances.”

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