This article appears as part of the Unspun: Scottish Politics newsletter.

I’m from Northern Ireland, therefore it amazes me that my homeland – a nation plagued by Christian fundamentalism – has managed to put in place buffer zones around NHS facilities offering abortion services to women, whilst an allegedly ‘progressive’ Scottish Government has failed so far.

Right now, Christian fundamentalists are standing outside Scottish hospitals and clinics making the lives of women – often in pain and great distress – absolute hell.

Evidently, women not seeking abortions also run this gauntlet. This week, one Scottish woman told how after suffering a miscarriage she had to face “anti-abortion protestors holding ‘vigils’ outside what is a maternity hospital”.

She said these protests took place “at what is the most vulnerable times in many women’s lives”, and added: “Hate is a strong word, but I feel it this week.”

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Even parents who have lost newborn babies must face these so-called Christians. Protests are orchestrated by a Texas group called 40 Days for Life. They began their latest ‘prayer vigil’ on St Valentine’s Day – if only they truly understood ‘Christian love’. These protests run until March 24. 

In recent years, hospitals in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Dundee have been targeted.

The Catholic Church is now aiding and abetting this intimidation. Holy Cross Parish, St Margaret Mary’s Church and the Paisley Diocese have posted notices online recruiting their congregations to attend. Labour MSP Monica Lennon described the protests as “predatory”.

Buffer zones preventing such protests being held directly outside health facilities have been established in Northern Ireland: a country that didn’t have a sitting government until recently. Scotland still waits for a buffer zone bill to pass, despite SNP big talk.

I asked Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland which campaigns for buffer zones, about what’s gone wrong. Grieve says her campaign has been “treated with nothing but contempt by the Scottish Government”. She claimed a senior member of the Scottish Government told her “some women have to run the gauntlet”.

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Last week new health secretary Neil Gray was claiming buffer zones are needed urgently. Back Off Scotland has been campaigning for four years. Where’s the urgency?

“Once the Scottish Government realised they were going to be the last nation in the UK to enact safe access zones, they started trying to save face,” Grieve said.

She pointed out that Clare Bailey, the politician who brought forward Northern Ireland’s legislation, “had personal experience assisting women to abortion appointments past swathes of protestors… Having her as a champion was key to it being passed”.

The Scottish Government has used claims that it wants to ensure the legislation is robust “countless times as a get-out-of-jail-free card”.

The Herald: New health secretary Neil Gray claimed buffer zones are needed urgently but where is the urgency?New health secretary Neil Gray claimed buffer zones are needed urgently but where is the urgency? (Image: Newsquest)
Since the latest protests began, women have told Grieve’s organisation of “the hurt and intimidation they felt at the hands of these groups. We’ve been promised for years that each round of this would be the last but it just keeps going… I cannot understand how it has taken this long.

“We’ve all seen the headlines… with First Ministers – past and present – stating they would ‘fast-track’ the bill but this hasn’t happened… There has been a lot of political opportunism.”

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On the Catholic Church’s role, she added: “It’s been an interesting change of tactic… In years gone by, they have done everything they could to distance themselves from the protests but now they are out there publicly recruiting. I think it shows how desperate they are for the Bill not to be passed, but I also hope it shows the public exactly what key players we are up against”.

As ever with the Scottish Government the answer is clear: quit the empty talk, pass the bill.