On Tuesday 6 September Nicola Sturgeon announced that the Scottish Government will support Gillian Mackay MSP’s Safe Access Zones Bill.
The Bill was proposed by Mackay, a member of the Scottish Greens, in partnership with abortion rights campaign Back Off Scotland.
It proposes to introduce safe access zones of 150 metres around reproductive healthcare sites which provide abortion services.
In these zones, behaviour which aims to influence a person from accessing or providing abortion care would be unlawful and would be prosecuted as a criminal offence.
Anti-abortion protesting can currently only be outlawed by local authorities, not by Scottish Parliament.
Back Off Scotland criticised the impact of this as creating a “postcode lottery” of who can access services without intimidation.
The proposed access zones will be introduced across all Scottish councils, rather than being at the discretion of individual local authorities.
The British Pregnancy Advisory Survey reported that there has been a “notable upturn” in the “number, persistence and vigour” of anti-abortion ‘vigil’ and protest groups since 2014.
Anti-abortion protests in April and May this year have seen some of the highest numbers of protestors so far.
In June, Sturgeon warned that the severe restriction of abortion rights in the USA with the overturning of Roe v Wade was likely to “embolden anti-abortion forces” in Scotland.
An international group founded in Texas, 40 Days for Life, are active in organising what they describe as ‘candle lit vigils’ outside abortion clinics to dissuade pregnancy terminations.
They are among those likely to be “emboldened” as they continue to organise their protests.
Ealing council in London was the first to introduce a ‘buffer zone’ around a Marie Stopes clinic in 2018, which they reported in 2021 to have been majorly effective in eliminating patients being distressed by activities outside the clinic.
The Bill must now pass through stages of scrutiny in parliament. If it passes, it will then become an Act and the changes will be implemented.