Call for abortion clinic protest buffer zones

Friday 7th June 2019

The Scottish Government has been urged to give local authorities additional powers so they can impose buffer zones to stop protests around abortion clinics.

Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Liberal Democrat health spokesperson, is calling on ministers to “give councils the power to protect women”.

Currently, councils have to apply for permission from the Scottish Government.

In England, councils have powers to bring in protest buffer zones outside abortion clinics without having to apply for central government permission.

In April 2018, Ealing council became the first in the country to ban protestors from gathering within a 100-metre radius of a Marie Stopes clinic.

The council’s leader said women had been subjected to “harrowing” intimidation and harassment.

In a letter to the Edinburgh Western MSP, Public Health Minister Joe FitzPatrick said he would be open to Scottish council bringing in bye-laws restricting protests around clinics

“I recognise that anti-abortion protests can be distressing for women and staff attending hospitals or clinics…I would encourage those councils who have concerns about abortion protests to consider whether making a bye-law would be appropriate in their area.

“Scottish Government would need to confirm the use of these bye-laws in each case where a council proposed to use them – and I would consider any proposal that came forward.”

Mr Cole-Hamilton responded:

“The Scottish Government have been exceptionally slow off the mark to address the intimidating protests outside abortion clinics across the country where women are seeking sensitive care.

“Unlike local authorities in England, councils in Scotland do not have the power to introduce buffer zones. I am pleased there is some movement in the government’s position and that the Minister is open to receiving bye-laws applications, but frankly that’s still not good enough.

“Councils should have the ability to respond to local circumstances and introduce buffer zones around facilities providing medical care, without having to ask SNP ministers for permission. 

“Every patient should be able to access the medical treatment they need without fear of harassment or intimidation. The Scottish Government should be giving councils the power to protect women.”