Supreme Court ruling paves way for Scottish abortion buffer zones

Supreme Court ruling paves way for Scottish abortion buffer zones
Supreme Court ruling paves way for Scottish abortion buffer zones

THE SUPREME Court has ruled that buffer zones can be introduced outside abortion clinics in Northern Ireland - paving the way for similar legislation to be introduced in Scotland.

The highest UK court upheld the competence of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill - finding there is  no disproportionate interference with the rights of protestors.

The decision opens the door open for Green MSP Gillian Mackay's plans for buffer zones in Scotland to be pushed forward.

Scotland's public health minister said she was "extremely pleased" with the court ruling and will open discussusions with Ms Mackay over taking her proposals forward "as soon as possible".

The court unanimously supported the legality of the Bill, which was passed by the Northern Irish Assembly in March following its introduction by former MLA Clare Bailey.

The judgement states that "women who wish to access lawful abortion services have a reasonable expectation of being able to do so without being confronted by protest activity designed to challenge and diminish their autonomy and undermine their resolve".

It adds that the the legislation "only prevents anti–abortion protestors from exercising their rights under articles 9, 10 and 11 of the Convention within designated safe access zones", adding that "they are free to protest anywhere else they please".

The legislation was referred to the Supreme Court following a challenge by anti-abortion campaigners.

Designate first minister of Northern Ireland, Michelle O'Neill, praised the "welcome decision".

She added: "No one should be face harassment and intimidation accessing healthcare.

"This is a progressive step forward to provide protection for patients and healthcare workers."

The legislation can now proceed for Royal Ascent to become law in Northern Ireland.

Ms Mackay said: “This is a very welcome decision, and a truly historic day for reproductive rights. It will provide vital and much needed protections.

“Abortion rights are healthcare, and this sets a crucial precedent for the introduction of my Bill to introduce buffer zones in Scotland."

She added: “The 12,000 responses that I received for my consultation show the strength of feeling.

"All over the world, anti-choice activists are trying to crackdown on abortion rights. We can’t stand still, and must always be looking to entrench and expand those rights.

“Nobody should be obstructed or harassed when accessing healthcare, yet, all across Scotland, people are being forced to endure a gauntlet of graphic images and abuse when accessing abortion services.

“This is totally wrong and I look forward to the day when my Bill will end such shameful scenes for good”.

Scottish Labour women's health spokesperson Carol Mochan, said: “This is welcome news.

"Nobody should have to face harassment or intimidation when accessing vital healthcare services.

"Scotland should be leading the way in this kind of legislation. Instead, the SNP have left us playing catch up.

“There is cross-party consensus on making buffer zones happen and government should be moving faster on this. We must work together to find space to pass this bill.

"It is time to follow our neighbours' lead and do more to ensure women have safe and secure access to abortion services."

SNP public health minister Maree Todd said: “I’m extremely pleased the Supreme Court has protected the rights of women to access abortion services without fear of harassment in Northern Ireland.

"We are currently carefully considering the UK Supreme Court’s judgment and will be discussing it with Gillian Mackay MSP and what it means for taking her Bill forward as soon as possible.

"We’re committed to safeguarding access to all healthcare without intimidation for women in Scotland.”