A Scots city is set to introduce "buffer zones" around abortion clinics to stop women being approached by anti-abortion activists.

It comes as pro-life activists warned Edinburgh council chiefs that a petition calling for the zones around abortion clinics makes a series of unsubstantiated allegations which have been contradicted by Police Scotland, NHS Lothian and the council itself.

City councillors have agreed to work with other councils and the Scottish government in a bid to implement 492ft no-protest zones.

Anti-abortion campaigners say their aim is to support women to make a different choice.

The move follows repeated calls for 150-metre "no-protest zones" to be erected outside the entrance to the Chalmers Street Sexual Health Centre, after a survey showed a majority of women are made to feel uncomfortable by pro-life protests outside of the clinic.

A 4,800-signature petition organised by Back off Scotland, a campaign group started by Edinburgh University students, was supported by the council's policy committee.

The council, which cannot introduce the necessary legislation itself, will now engage with the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) to help support that aim.

The results of a survey, carried out in partnership with the clinic over April, May and June of 2020, showed that 56% of the people visiting the clinic felt very uncomfortable due to the protesters, although 9 per cent thought it was the right of the protesters to voice their opinions.

Anti-choice protests in Scotland date back to 1999, with hospitals and clinics across the country being targeted.

READ MORE: Mum launches petition to ban pro-life protesters outside hospital

But Back Off Scotland says protests are a threat to privacy and right to access legal, essential medical services.

The Herald:

The group petition, which attracted more than 4,800 signatures, stated: “Anti-choice activity directed at individuals threatens their right to privacy and right to access legal, essential medical services.

“Patients have reported feeling intimidated and harassed as they try to access medical care in confidence, and that tactics such as praying, rosaries, and medically incorrect leaflets make them feel pressured when accessing abortion and other sexual health services.

“Women not accessing abortion care are also targeted – with one woman with a pram being told ‘she hadn’t killed her baby so why would she support abortion’, and another being told she would die of cancer for having an abortion in the past.

“Both sites that provide abortion services in Edinburgh are targeted by protesters – there is no way for abortion patients to avoid them.

“Current law does not give the police the power to stop this harassment.”

Pro-life campaigner Paul Atkin who has attended Edinburgh vigils, made a detailed nine page submission saying there is no evidence that 'buffer zones’ are "necessary or proportionate”.

He says any ‘buffer zone’ would breach human rights legislation covering the right of assembly, the right to express political opinion and the right to practice one’s religion.

He says no information has been provided to suggest or prove how many patients were affected by harassment or intimidation, at which Edinburgh locations, or at specific times and dates.

He said: “The council’s own petitions criteria say they will not accept petitions containing ‘false and defamatory’ information. The petition was presented without any evidence to support it and the council broke its own rules publishing it.”

The Herald:

Mr Atkin also highlights considerable documentary evidence from the council, NHS Lothian and Police Scotland that pro-life vigils “are peaceful and pass without incident”.

He said Police Scotland also have no records of incidents or arrests at the clinic over a three year period.

Mr Atkin states: “The petitioner appears to be asking the council to ask Holyrood to pass legislation on her behalf. It’s not clear why the petitioner did not bring her concerns to the Petitions Committee at Holyrood as Glasgow suggest.

“The claims about alleged harassment consist solely of allegations which are unsupported by plausible, reliable evidence and they are contradicted and disproved by the evidence from NHS Lothian, Police Scotland and council findings.”

Back Off Scotland co-founder Lucy Grieve said: “It’s a positive move that the council leader is now going to engage with the Scottish Government and COSLA in support of this matter because they, like us, believe that this issue is best tackled nationally.

“Protecting patients from intimidation and harassment when seeking healthcare is a bipartisan issue and one that requires action from the Scottish Government now.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said:  “All women in Scotland should have access to safe and legal abortion services, and should not feel harassed or intimidated when accessing these services. Councils in Scotland have powers to make bye-laws, so these offer local authorities a means of imposing measures suited to local circumstances – and that may include measures to restrict protests or other gatherings where that’s appropriate.”