CONTROVERSIAL US-style anti-abortion protests will be staged at four of Scotland’s busiest hospitals in an escalation of the pickets first staged last year in Glasgow.

Pro-life group Forty Days For Life will target the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow to Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh, Aberdeen Maternity Hospital and Ninewells Hospital, Dundee across three months as part of a worldwide campaign running during the Christian season of Lent.

The group, founded in Texas in 2004, launched its first Scottish campaign last year, insists it will be conducting prayer vigils and would not harass women seeking abortions but has sparked allegations of intimidation being compared with practices outside many US clinics.

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The Catholic Church said the latest wave of vigils were “a peaceful, yet poignant reminder of this sad reality” of abortion, with organisers claiming the events were “not a demonstration but a peaceful, prayerful and public pro-life witness”.

But opponents has described the move as a “very worrying development” and that an escalation of protests in England, Wales and Northern Ireland was evidence that “activists feel emboldened to increase their presence in Scotland too”.

A British Pregnancy Advisory Service spokeswoman said: “Policymakers and the police must be absolutely clear. The behaviour of anti-abortion activists outside clinics and hospitals is experienced by women as intimidation and harassment. “This is not simply a matter of protest or freedom of speech. Pregnant women are being targeted by people who do not respect their individual circumstances or beliefs.

Those spearheading the protests outside Glasgow have said they have been inspired to run their own vigils following the high-profile events last year.

Patricia Maclennan, who is the campaign leader in Edinburgh, told the Scottish Catholic Observer: “Since I live in Edinburgh I thought perhaps I could do something. I did think this will be a lot of work. Sometimes you just feel called to do something by God.

“People feel pressured by doctors, the baby’s father, employers. They feel that they have to live the life everyone is expecting them to.”

Pro-life activist Rose Docherty, who is organising the Glasgow pickets, told the paper: “All over the western world, Scotland included, more and more individuals are realising that the first casualty of abortion is the truth.

“The lie of abortion damages everyone, because abortion is never the best option either for pregnant mothers or unborn children.”

But Jillian Merchant, member of Abortion Rights Committee Scotland, said: “Based on past experience, we are concerned that these actions will obstruct women’s access, not to mention creating a hostile and intimidating environment for patients and staff attending the Hospitals involved.”