Sturgeon: 'I'm confident we can find a way forward on buffer zones'

Nicola Sturgeon will host a cross-party summit with campaign groups and charities today in the hope of finding a route forward for potentially legislating for so-called ‘buffer zones’.

The First Minister has come under pressure in recent months to back calls for buffer zones which would put a legal ban on protests around abortion clinics or hospitals.

Campaigners say these are needed in order to reduce distress or intimidation felt by women seeking abortions in Scotland.

Scottish Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, launched a consultation earlier this month on her members bill which would place a 150m zone around healthcare facilities that provide abortions.

The Scottish Government said in November buffer zones were a matter for councils to pass in bylaws, but the SNP leader has since said her preference would be to legislate nationally.

Maree Todd, the women’s health minister, previously warned any ban brought in must be “capable of withstanding legal challenge."

Speaking ahead of the summit, Ms Sturgeon said the meeting came at a “particularly important time” following the overturning of Roe vs Wade in the United States and would be an opportunity to “reaffirm women’s autonomy and right to choose”.

She said: “The summit will consider in general terms what needs to be done to improve access to abortion services, including second trimester abortions, in Scotland.

Nicola Sturgeon will host a summit on abortion care in Edinburgh today

“However, its main and most immediate focus will be on mechanisms to establish effective buffer zones. It starts from the clear view that women must be able to access health care, including abortion services, free of harassment or intimidation.

"The proper focus for anyone protesting abortion should be Parliament and lawmakers – not hospitals or sexual health clinics,” she added.

The First Minister said “upset, distress and fear” caused by these protests can be profound.

She added: “At what is already a very stressful time, women are being forced to see or make their way past these groups on the way in. And once they’re inside, on top of everything else, there’s the knowledge that they may have to see them again on the way out.

“In my view, the current situation is unacceptable, and it’s one which we must address as a matter of urgency. I am determined that we do so. There are issues that we need to solve to establish buffer zones through legislation but if we work together in a spirit of solidarity, I am confident we can find a way.”

Among the attendees are representatives from each major political party, campaign groups, councils and health boards.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, Scottish Liberal Democrat leader who will attend the meeting on behalf of his party, said: "This long overdue summit is a vital chance to introduce robust action that can give women the protection they need more than ever.

"Now that the opportunity has finally arrived, I am categorical about what must be achieved at this summit. The Government should commit to delivering buffer zones in government time and at pace so that women can access treatment without fear of intimidation or harassment.”

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