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The Evening News can reveal that Women’s Health Minister, Maree Todd has told Back Off Scotland that legislation to enact buffer zones around clinics providing abortion services in Scotland is ‘not on the cards’ because she fears the Government would face legal proceedings from pro-life groups.
Campaigners, who have called for 150m zones to be created to deter demonstrators, said the government decision is tantamount to a refusal to protect women’s right to privacy and harassment-free healthcare.
The Back Off Scotland movement, which started in Edinburgh, warned failure to show national leadership on the issue will result in a postcode lottery of care which will leave vulnerable women exposed to harassment.
Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole Hamilton said the Government ‘dragging it’s heels’ on a national policy over buffer zones is letting women down.
It follows the recently published Women’s Health Plan in which the Scottish Government stated that they would work with NHS and Local Authorities to find “ways of preventing women feeling harassed when accessing abortion care due to protests or vigils.”
Back Off Scotland secured a buffer zone commitment from Edinburgh City Council in February, after reports of harassment outside Chalmers Clinic sparked a petition.
A survey found that 56 per cent of those visiting the clinic “felt very uncomfortable due to the protesters”.
But a similar bid in Glasgow was thrown out after the council concluded that it does not have the powers to legislate over the issue.
Back Off Scotland co-founder and director, Lucy Grieve said: “It is disappointing that the Scottish Government refuse to use powers they have to protect women across Scotland.
"By enacting buffer zones in one local authority area and not others, harassment-free access to healthcare turns into a postcode lottery.
“Abortion is a legal right for all women who need one. If we want to be world-leading, then this is an opportunity to show what Scotland stands for. Bye-laws at local level are simply not enough.”
"Claiming new legislation would be ‘disproportionate’ dismisses the experience of women who have been harassed.”
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP said: “For years my party and I have backed campaigners calling to set up buffer zones. Every patient should be able to receive the medical treatment they need without fear of harassment or intimidation.
"Councils in England have used these zones to protect clinical staff and those attending appointments but local authorities in Scotland need to apply to the Scottish Government.
“The decision by the Scottish Government to drag their feet rather than put forward a national policy to allow buffer zones sets up a postcode lottery and lets women in need down.
"If the Government won’t pursue a national policy, they should give local authorities the ability to respond to local circumstances in setting up these buffer zones, without having to ask SNP ministers for permission."
A Scottish Government spokesperson said:
“Our Programme for Government already includes a commitment to support any local authority who wishes to use bye-laws to establish buffer zones – and we would invite them to do so as the swiftest way to have such zones enacted.”