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Scottish Government to research impact of abortion clinic protests 

This article was originally submitted on the 14th March

The Scottish Government will commission research on the impact of abortion clinic protests, focusing on  the frequency, scale and impact on patients. 

This comes after the Government stated in November 2021 that they did not consider it appropriate to  introduce nationwide ‘buffer zone’ legislation, which would prevent protests from taking place within 150  metres of abortion clinics.  

According to Back Off Scotland, the campaign group calling for the introduction of these buffer zones, 70 per cent of Scottish women live in an area in which a hospital or clinic has been targeted by anti-choice groups. 

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The majority of protests take place in Glasgow and Edinburgh, with two clinics in Edinburgh being targeted.  

In the November 2021 parliamentary debate on buffer zones, Gillian Mackay of the Green Party read out testimony from someone who visited Edinburgh’s Chalmers Cent re in 2021. 

“I was a victim of sexual assault and had to book an appointment with Chalmers. Already blaming myself  and terrified to tell anyone, I was 17 and completely by myself. 

“A small group of individuals, mostly male, were standing on the other side of the road. I was repeatedly called out to by one of the men, and when I  glared at him and ignored him, he called me a teenage murderer. 

“I felt threatened and terrified at a time when I needed protection and comfort.”

The Government said they wanted to “find a way to ensure that women do not feel harassed or intimidated  when accessing the services.”  

If women face barriers in accessing safe abortion services, the number of unsafe abortions increase, with there being globally around 47,000 deaths a year due to unsafe abortions. 

Before this new research was commissioned, the Government supported local authorities using bylaws to create buffer zones, as the process is quicker and can be tailored to local circumstances. 

Maree Todd of the Scottish National Party said that local bylaws were the “most appropriate” way to enact buffer zones, however local councils said this was not possible due to current legislation. 

The Government’s decision to commission research into the impact of abortion clinic protests could signal a move to reconsider the proposal. 

The decision has been welcomed by the campaign group Back Off Scotland.  

Lucy Grieve, Co-founder and director of the group, told The Student: 

“Back Off Scotland has long called on the Scottish Government to take responsibility and protect our legal right to access healthcare without fear of harassment and intimidation, so it’s a positive development to hear that they are commissioning research on the impact of abortion clinic protests. 

“We hope that the commissioned research will look closely at those most affected by the protests: the patients and staff. 

“We’ve received so many messages from women across Scotland who have faced this harassment first-hand. From a university student seeking an abortion after her pill failed; to a teenager who had been sexually assaulted and required sexual healthcare from a clinic; to a woman who had to abort her baby due to severe foetal abnormalities; to doctors that perform abortions themselves; the stories are endless and wide-reaching. 

“There was one common theme though: that they all felt intimidated and harassed by the presence of these protestors. It’s time that the Scottish Government listens to their voices directly.” 

“We will continue to campaign until national legislation is introduced – however long that takes – so that all Scottish women can access abortion services without fear of harassment or intimidation, regardless of  where they are.” 

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