Plans for protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics are “extreme”, “patronising to women” and threaten human rights, critics have said ahead of giving evidence at Holyrood.

Banning religious vigils from outside the facilities would also amount to “criminalising prayer”, one group said of legislation promoted by Green MSP Gillian Mackay.

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill would create 200m “safe access zones” outside clinics to stop users and staff being harangued and intimidated by protestors.

It follows complaints about women having to run a gauntlet of pro-life demonstrators outside clinics, including the main NHS services in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

Ms Mackay said those protesting outside clinics were “utterly wrong” and “must think about the terrible toll” they were having on service users and staff.

Last month, the Central Scotland MSP said the start of hearings by Holyrood’s health committee on her Bill was a “landmark moment for reproductive rights”.

The first Stage 1 committee session heard from supporters of the Bill, including the campaign group Back off Scotland and the British Pregnancy Advisory Service.

However today it will hear from groups opposed to the proposal, including the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in Scotland and the Free Church of Scotland.  

The Law Society of Scotland and Scottish Human Rights Commission will also appear.

In a submission to the Bill’s consultation, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland - whose vice president Bishop John Keenan will appear before the committee - said the proposals were “extreme” and "patronising to women” and raised questions about human rights.

It said the right to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly and association would be “seriously impacted by the proposals, as the Bill will criminalise people for expressing certain views and occupying certain spaces”.

It would also take “the extraordinary step of criminalising prayer contrary to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion”, disproportionately affecting people of faith.

The Christian Medical Fellowship - whose chief executive Dr Mark Pickering will also appear at the committee – agreed that “physically obstructing access to abortion facilities should not be permitted” but added that police currently had sufficient powers to prevent it.

The Fellowship’s submission questioned what “harassment” meant in the Bill.

“Shouting abuse, forcing literature upon service users or staff, making available factual handouts, offering personal support, participating in silent prayer, etc – a spectrum of possible behaviours – but who is to judge what constitutes harassment and by what yardstick will it be measured?” the group said.

Ms Mackay said women felt “judged, intimidated and harassed” by vigils outside clinics.

She said: “My heart and my solidarity is with the people who are being forced to pass a gauntlet of placards and banners. The protesters know about the impact they are having. “They know that people feel judged, intimidated and harassed. Do they not care that they are making so many people feel this way? 

“Nobody should have to go through that to access healthcare. I urge all of the protesters to consider their own roles and the awful impact of their words and their banners.

“They can protest outside our parliament by all means, but to knowingly target people who are often in a vulnerable place is utterly wrong, and I am determined that my Bill will put a stop to it.”