Scottish Government sets date for second abortion summit as campaign group concerned about 'delay tactic' through new research

A date has been set for a second abortion summit as a campaign group has expressed its concerns over a Scottish Government-commissioned abortion protest study costing almost £70,000.

The First Minister will convene a second abortion summit with representatives from council umbrella body Cosla and “the most affected local authorities” on August 29.

It will follow on from an initial summit hosted by Nicola Sturgeon in late June where the First Minister announced the Government was considering “test councils” to enact legislation on buffer zones, with Glasgow and Edinburgh singled out as potential candidates.

Scotland has seen an increase in anti-abortion protests this year with more, planned by the American-funded organisation 40 Days for Life, expected in September.

The Scottish Government has set a date for a second abortion summit as anti-abortion campaigners continue to protest (Photo: John Devlin).

At the beginning of this week, consultation for Green MSP Gillian Mackay's private members bill, calling on national implementation of 150-metre anti-abortion buffer zones, closed.

A Government spokesperson said: “The First Minister will convene a meeting with representatives from Cosla and the most affected local authorities on August 29.

"The meeting will focus on the bye-law process and aims to continue discussions with local government on how best to protect patient rights in the shorter term, whilst national legislation is progressed.”

In a contract commissioning research on anti-abortion protests published this month, the Government states it hopes to inform policy around “vigils and protests" in Scotland.

The Government says it intends to build a “holistic picture” of the “prevalence and scale” of abortion protests in Scotland and their impact on women’s experience of accessing abortion services. The estimated cost of the contract is £68,112.50.

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Possible research methods could include collecting NHS board data on observations of protests and interviews of patients and protestors.

However, Lucy Grieve, co-founder of campaign group Back Off Scotland, said she was concerned this action would not provide any new information and would be a waste of time and money.

Ms Grieve cited concerns the contractor, consultancy firm Rocket Science, is not the “most well-placed” to be undertaking research on the topic.

Dozens of women have spoken to the campaign group, which originally called for exclusionary zones to deter the protests, about the trauma they experience from the protests.

Ms Grieve said: "We’ve got the evidence and we don’t need to undertake more expensive research to learn what we already know.

"The collation of evidence they want to do will take a lot more time and more women and staff will be harassed in the interim.

"This money could be better spent funnelling it into propagating the buffer zone working group or getting legal advice for the legal challenges we are inevitably going to face.”

Ms Grieve said the research felt like “another delay tactic” from the Government instead of focusing on action they could take to resolve the issue.

However, the Government has insisted action would not rely on the research being completed.

A spokesperson said: “The First Minister has been clear that work to find a way through the complex legal issues that apply to safe access zones will not have to await this research being complete. However, this research is a vital part of building the required evidence base as legislation is progressed.”

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