A group of 76 Glasgow doctors have demanded action following a 100-person anti-abortion protest held this week outside of the Maternity Unit at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

The group of consultants have written to Women’s Health Minister, Maree Todd MSP, callong on her to “show courage” and introduce protest free ‘buffer zones’ across all clinics providing abortion care in Scotland.

On Sunday, around 100 pro-life protesters from anti-abotion group 40 Days For Life were spotted lining up along Hardgate Road in Glasgow, outside of the maternity unit entrance,

Whilst anti-choice protests are typically aimed at women accessing abortion services, the letter highlights the effects that these protests are having on medical staff and their patients, calling the imitation and harassment “deplorable”.

The letter called upon the Scottish Government to follow the lead of other countries who have introduced safe access measures.

It read: “We believe that Scottish Government action is long overdue. 

“It is time to follow the lead of the Northern Ireland Assembly who passed a Safe Access Zones bill last month, Spain who last week legislated against harassment or intimidation of women, and the Australian Government who introduced safe access measures in 2021.”

Student-run campaign, Back Off Scotland, has been calling for the implementation of 150 metre buffer zones since October 2020. 

In their 2021 manifesto and subsequent Women's Health Strategy, the SNP promised to introduce buffer zones that would prevent anti-abortion campaigners from gathering outside hospitals. 

However, in November last year, the Scottish Government said it would be for councils to pass by-laws to protect specific sites, rather than have a nationwide system. 

Maree Todd, the public health minister has promised to look at a Members Bill being tabled by Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay. 

The Central Scotland MSP wants 150m protest-free areas around all clinics that provided abortion services across Scotland, not a “postcode lottery” based on bylaws.

Lead signatory and consultant paediatric radiologist, Dr Greg Irwin, said: “We, as Consultants in the Children’s and the Maternity Hospitals, are seriously concerned about the anti-abortion protests occurring outside the QEUH. We know first-hand how distressing this harassment is for our patients, which makes it infuriating for us as clinical staff to have to pass these groups day-in-day-out.

“The protesters on Hardgate Road are as close as they can get to the maternity unit, meaning that our patients in the wards can see and hear them. These women may well be feeling vulnerable and upset. They should not have to put up with judgement or intimidation outside our hospital. How can we offer our patients the standard of care and support they deserve in this situation?  Implementing buffer zones is essential to deal with this problem, both in Glasgow and throughout Scotland.

“We ask the Scottish Government, and the Women’s Health Minister particularly, to take action immediately to move these protestors away from our hospital doors. We have been watching our patients get bullied for far too long now. The women of Glasgow, the women of Scotland deserve better than this.”

Dr Audrey Brown, a consultant in sexual and reproductive health, said: “For people accessing abortion care, and the staff providing it, the presence of anti-choice activists at the entrance to clinics and hospitals is distressing and is a form of emotional harassment. 

“The language and images used on some placards is upsetting and offensive, not just to those accessing abortion care, but also to those who have experienced pregnancy loss in the past.

“These anti-choice protestors will further traumatise those who may be making a difficult decision, perhaps on a background of rape, gender-based violence, or medical grounds. Whilst abortion care providers recognise the right to protest, this should not be at clinical sites, where individual patients and staff are harassed and intimidated." 

Lucy Grieve, co-founder and director of Back Off Scotland said: “This letter is a powerful reminder of just how many people anti-choice protests affect. Back Off Scotland is so grateful to these consultants for using their voices and standing up for Scottish women in a time where the Scottish Government is not.

“Not only do 70% of Scottish women live in areas where local clinics and hospitals have been targeted by anti-choice protests in recent years, we’ve heard numerous stories about the lasting impact that exposure to these protests has for patients. This is causing untold levels of harm across the board.

“The Women’s Health Minister’s lack of action over this matter calls into question her suitability to handle the women’s health portfolio. She needs to take swift action to introduce universal buffer zones around clinics to protect those accessing these services now.”

Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd said: “The Scottish Government is committed to women being able to access timely abortion without judgement. I condemn, in the strongest possible terms, any attempts to intimidate women as they choose to access abortion services.

“We look forward to Gillian Mackay MSP bringing forward her member’s bill on buffer zones and I have publicly committed to work constructively with her in this regard. 

“I have convened a working group with partners such as COSLA, Police Scotland and affected councils and health boards to look at how to address the vigils and protests that take place outside abortion clinics.”