Sturgeon to chair abortion clinic buffer zones summit after 'deeply wrong' protests

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon

NICOLA Sturgeon will chair a roundtable summit to draw up plans for buffer zones to be established outside abortion clinics despite the risk of legal challenges.

The First Minister gave the commitment asked being pressed on the issue by Labour MSP Monica Lennon, following pressure from campaigners.

Concerns have been raised over women being intimidated by protesters outside healthcare facilities which also provide abortions, with the FM previously telling anti-abortion campaigners to instead demonstrate outside parliament.

Calls have been made for buffer zones to be set up outside clinics, but a similar measure proposed in Norther Ireland has been referred to the Supreme Court after a legal challenge.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon insisted that “women have the right to access abortion without fear or intimidation”, adding that demonstrating outside healthcare facilities was “deeply wrong”.

She added: “I strongly support the introduction of buffer zones and the government is actively considering how this parliament can legislate in a way that is effective and also capable of withstanding legal challenge.

“Members will be aware that the law on buffer zones passed in Northern Ireland has recently been referred to the Supreme Court. The outcome of that may have relevance for any steps we take here.

“In the meantime though, as we consider and hopefully resolve issues around national legislation, we will support any local authority that is willing to use by-laws to establish buffer zones.”

Turning to calls for her to chair a summit on the issues, Ms Sturgeon said: “I am very happy to convene and indeed, I will personally chair a roundtable summit to discuss buffer zones and indeed any other matters that need to be addressed to ensure safe and timely access to abortion services in Scotland within the current law.”

Ms Lennon said she would “warmly welcome the First Minister's agreement to convene an urgent summit that more than a dozen women’s organisations have called for”.

She added: “Her personal commitment to chair the talks and facilitate politicians, campaigners and healthcare experts working together is hugely important and I thank her for this.

“While operational policing matters are for Police Scotland, does she agree that it is important that any members of the public experiencing harassment or intimidation when seeking to access or provide abortion healthcare must feel confident that if they come forward to the police with any complaints, that they will be properly investigated?”

Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay, who is expected to bring forward a members’ bill on buffer zones, pointed to loud protests outside the Sanford clinic in Glasgow yesterday, as the latest example of an increasing problem of intimidation outside healthcare facilities.

Ms Mackay said: “The loud protests outside the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow yesterday are just the latest protests to be held outside healthcare facilities.

“Not only do these protests intimidate many of the people who use these services, I understand they also forced the clinic to close particular rooms on one side of the building due to the amplification system the protestors were using.

“My buffer zones member’s bill will restrict protest outside healthcare settings. It is time we ensured that everyone who needs to access abortion services can do so free from intimidation and harassment.”

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