John Mason, SNP MSP admits he attended controversial anti-abortion protest outside clinic, insisted that some women are coerced into having an abortion and protests give women their last chance to “realise they have a choice”.
The admission came in an email to campaign group Back Off Scotland who are campaigning for 150-metre “buffer zones” where protests are not allowed, in response to recent demonstrations outside hospitals.
The 40 Days for Life group have stood outside a number of hospitals in Scotland, with Mr Mason saying he “visited” one such event at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow.
A senior SNP source later distanced the party from Mr Mason’s comments, claiming his views are not those of the SNP’s.
In the email, Mr Mason said: “I have only visited one of these gatherings outside a hospital. It was at the QEUH in Glasgow and could not really be described as a protest. It was more like a vigil.
“They stood across a wide road from the hospital entrance and certainly did not approach anyone, harass anyone, or cause alarm or distress. Therefore, I am wondering which sites in Scotland have been causing a problem?”
He went on to say he considered abortion to be “seldom essential or vital”, before claiming the vigils may help women realise “they have a choice”.
He added: “Sadly some women are being coerced by a partner or family to have an abortion when they may not realise they have a choice, e.g. by having the baby and giving him/her up for adoption.”
He also claimed he was “unconvinced” of the need for a new buffer zone law, adding: “Breach of the peace is a wide ranging power which the police have and should be able to use in most circumstances.”
Lucy Grieve, co-founder and director of Back Off Scotland, said: “It’s deeply disturbing to learn that an SNP MSP has participated in events attempting to hijack women’s lawful access to healthcare.
“It’s also deeply disturbing that the Scottish Government have abdicated from their responsibility to protect women accessing abortion services from intimidation and harassment.
“The Scottish Government need to take ownership of this issue immediately, implement buffer zones nationally, and protect women who are accessing legal healthcare.”
A senior SNP source added: "John Mason's views are not those of the SNP.
"Abortion is basic healthcare and the fight for this to be the case has already been fought and won, and should in no way be up for debate in 2021"
Mr Mason’s stance also attracted fierce criticism from opposition MSPs, with Scottish Labour’s Monica Lennon calling for an investigation into his comments.
On Twitter, she said: “A deeply worrying admission from anti-choice MSP John Mason that must be fully investigated by the SNP.
“Those who gather in this way near clinics are causing distress to women seeking abortion services.
“Stop dithering @scotgov and legislate for buffer zones, now.”
The Scottish Conservative public health spokesperson, Sue Webber, said, “John Mason has proven himself again, to be woefully out of touch with modern Scotland, in describing abortion as seldom essential.”
“For an SNP MSP to underestimate the vast importance of access to reproductive healthcare, is simply outrageous.”
“We must ensure that women across Scotland are able to access this vital service free from harassment and judgement.”
Scottish Greens health spokesperson Gillian Mackay said: “It’s long past time John Mason came to recognise that 82 per cent of Scots want to end these ‘vigils’, because most people recognise that women should have a right to access healthcare services without being harassed, intimidated or made to feel like their morals are in question.
"This isn’t a morality issue, it is one of rights, and I would encourage local authorities to use existing by-laws to ensure women have access to services.”
Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart said: "John Mason is wildly out of touch with the people of Scotland. It's really rather scary that someone with views like this is a lawmaker with the power to influence women's healthcare.
"Abortion services have for decades been part of the healthcare system. For years my party and I have backed campaigners calling to set up these buffer zones. Every patient should be able to receive the medical treatment they need without fear of harassment or intimidation."
Mr Mason told The Scotsman he believes life begins at conception but respects the view of others that life begins at birth.
An SNP spokesperson said: "Women accessing abortion services, just like any other health service, should be able to do so without fear of intimidation or targeted harassment.
“The Scottish Government has already set out its commitment to supporting any local authority which wishes to use bye-laws to establish buffer zones outside clinics which provide abortion services.”