The Student
Person holding up a sign which says "Pro-women, pro-choice"
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Women’s Health Minister refuses to implement abortion clinic buffer zones

On the 14th of September, Back Off Scotland campaigners met with the Scottish Government Women’s Health Minister, Maree Todd MSP, to discuss introducing 150 metre ‘buffer zones’ around abortion clinics across Scotland.

The organisation is a student-led group with a national petition to aid in reproductive rights. The idea behind the buffer zones is to protect the rights of those with uterus’s to privacy and access to essential medical services without the threat of anti-choice protestors.

As of now, the police cannot exercise their power to prevent this kind of harassment – something that Back Off Scotland are trying to change by pushing for national legislation.

They were successful in securing a buffer zone commitment from Edinburgh City Council in February. However, when meeting with the MSP, Maree Todd stated that the government could not implement such legislation out of fear that they would face legal proceedings from pro-life groups, and that they would be taken to court and lose.

The organisation has since expressed their frustration with the government’s refusal to be proactive in helping to protect the essential right to harassment-free healthcare.

The co-founder and director of Back Off Scotland, Lucy Grieve, said:

“We’re grateful to the Minister for meeting with us to discuss our campaign. It was disappointing and frustrating, however, that the Scottish Government are refusing to use the 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.”

The movement warned that without national ruling on the issue the ‘postcode lottery’ of care will leave vulnerable females especially exposed to harassment.

It is not just Back Off Scotland that have found the government’s lack of involvement frustrating.

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole Hamilton said that the Government “dragging its heels” on a national law over buffer zones is letting females down.

“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.”

A survey has found that 56 percent of those visiting the Chalmers Street Clinic in Edinburgh “felt very uncomfortable due to protestors.”

Alice Murray, who was met with protestors when seeking services from the clinic, has said that “it should not have to take multiple cases of harassment for buffer zones to be introduced; buffer zones should be a preventative measure.”

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government has since said:

“Our Programme for Government already includes a commitment to support any local authority who wishes to use by-laws to establish buffer zones – and we would invite them to do so as the swiftest way to have such zones enacted.”

Back Off Scotland continue to campaign for reproductive rights and have stated that their cause is “about ensuring people’s right to seek medical care, free from intimidation.”

Image: Lorie Shaull via Flickr