THE FACTS

  • 70% of Scottish women of reproductive age live in a Health Board with hospitals or clinics targeted by anti-choice groups in the past five years

  • Thousands of women having an abortion in Scotland every year have to attend a clinic or hospital targeted by anti-choice groups

  • 82% of Scots want to end this type of targeted harassment outside abortion clinics, a January 2021 poll by the Scottish Humanists showed

  • Buffer zones would stop this type of harassment by banning certain activities that are designed to deter or prevent women from accessing abortion care within 150m of the entrance to a clinic or hospital

  • The recent Women’s Health Plan included the commitment – “NHS, Local Authorities, Justice agencies and Scottish Government to work together to find ways of preventing women feeling harassed when accessing abortion care due to protests or vigils.”

  • Buffer zones are already in place in Canada, Australia, and parts of England and the USA

  • The SNP, Scottish Labour, the Scottish Greens, and the Scottish Liberal Democrats all

    support the introduction of measures to stop anti-choice harassment around clinics

IN SCOTLAND

Clinic protests in Scotland date back to 1999 when the group Precious Life Scotland began protesting outside Brook Advisory clinics with large, explicit images.

Since the beginning of 2017 we are aware of 7 hospitals and clinics in Scotland that have been targeted – Aberdeen Maternity Hospital, Edinburgh’s Chalmers Centre, Dundee’s Ninewells Hospital, Glasgow Royal Infirmary, Larbert’s Forth Valley Royal Hospital, Queen Elizabeth University Hospital Glasgow, and the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh.

The largest targeted anti-choice gathering on record in the UK took place outside Glasgow Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in 2018, with around 200 people holding a candlelight vigil immediately outside the Maternity Wing entrance.

Most of these are organised by the Texas-founded group 40 Days for Life, which holds two sets of 40-day protests a year – one during Lent, and one in the autumn. The organisation keeps a running tally on their homepage of the number of abortion clients they believe they have convinced to change their mind, the number of medical workers they have forced to quit their jobs, and the number of clinics they have forced to close as a result of their harassment.

A long-term study of anti-abortion harassment across the UK conducted by Aston University has found that in England, Scotland and Wales, about 80% of individuals involved in this activity are Catholic, and 10-15% are Evangelical.

THE SOLUTION

Across Scotland and the UK, there has been a lack of action to address clinic protests and the negative impact they have on abortion clients accessing services, local residents, and passers- by. This is particularly an issue in Scotland as the majority of protests are outside hospitals and therefore vulnerable people (including women and pregnant people attending maternity units for miscarriages) are forced to pass these protests.

Existing law in Scotland does not adequately cover clinic-based harassment, or the negative impact that it has on women. It is a combination of content and context which is unlike any other form of targeted street harassment.

The targets of this harassment – women accessing abortion care – have an Article 8 right to access legal, confidential healthcare services.

New legislation is needed to move these groups away from the clinic gate and to preserve the rights of women to access legal, essential healthcare.

WHAT ARE BUFFER ZONES?

In a number of places around the world – including British Columbia and Ontario in Canada, and Victoria in Australia, ‘buffer zones’ are used to deter and prevent harassment and intimidation outside clinics.

A buffer zones is an area around clinics and hospitals providing abortion services where certain activities cannot take place – including filming of clients accessing services, harassment and intimidation, stopping clients in an attempt to change their mind about accessing services, and gathering for the purpose of protest about reproductive choice.

Buffer zones would stop activity taking place directly outside clinics and hospitals, but not have any impact on protests or activity anywhere else. It would apply equally to pro- and anti-choice groups, ensuring that abortion clients are not pressured as they access healthcare.

Legislation proposing these buffer zones has been debated in both Westminster and Stormont, as well as in the Irish Seanad, but, as yet, no progress has been made in Holyrood.