Across Scotland, there are individuals and groups who gather outside healthcare sites that provide abortion services to attempt to dissuade or deter access to or provision of abortion care.
This activity is organised, widespread, and persistent. Women accessing abortion care have reported that they find this activity harassing, alarming, and distressing. Abortion providers report that it has a negative impact on their patients, and that staff can also experience harassment and intimidation.
Since 2017 there have been ten hospitals and clinics in Scotland that have experienced protests, and 75% of women of reproductive age live in a health board area that has hospitals or clinics that have been targeted by anti-choice groups in the past five years.
Safe access or ‘buffer’ zones are areas around a clinic or hospital where certain types of activity are banned – for example following women, handing out leaflets, or displaying signs.
Safe access zones are now in law in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, leaving Scotland behind the rest of the UK.
BPAS has been working closely with Gillian Mackay MSP, the grassroots campaign group Back Off Scotland, and legal counsel to bring this bill forward.
We have been campaigning to introduce safe access zones around the UK since 2014, and have repeatedly raised this issue with government and politicians in Scotland for at least 5 years. Despite this, the Scottish government has declined to take action and we are now using the Member’s Bill process to take forward our own solution to this problem.
Following the successful introduction of Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay’s Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill, it has progressed to Stage 1. During the Stage 1 process, the Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee are examining the Bill and gathering views.
The Committee has issued two calls for written evidence:
• A short survey, for people who want to provide general views and comments on the Bill overall
• A structured call for evidence for people who want to provide comments on individual provisions of the Bill
BPAS and Back Off Scotland have created a guide for organisations and individuals to respond to both calls for evidence and would encourage everyone to complete the more detailed, structured call for evidence as it will provide the committee with richer evidence.
It is important that anybody who has experience of, or opinions on, protests and ‘vigils’ taking place outside clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services submit their responses. The Call for Evidence is open until 20 December 2023.