Plans to ban protests outside abortion clinics are being brought before Scottish Parliament. 

Put forward by Gillian Mackay MSP, the Bill will introduce 200m "buffer zones" outside healthcare services to prevent anti-abortion protesters intimidating patients and staff. 

It is currently being scrutinised by Holyrood's health committee, in what has been called a "landmark moment" for reproductive rights.  

Read more: Scotland Buffer Zones: Bill to tackle anti-abortion protests

However, some argue it will threaten rights to protest and freedom of speech. 

Here is what the Bill is proposing, why it's being introduced, and the arguments for and against buffer zones outside abortion clinics. 

What is the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill about?

The Herald: The Bill plans to ban protests within 200m of abortion clinicsThe Bill plans to ban protests within 200m of abortion clinics

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill has been introduced at Holyrood by Green MSP Gillian Mackay. 

Its aim is to create "safe access zones" around all places providing abortion services in Scotland

The Bill proposes to create a boundary of 200m around these spaces which would ban people from harassing others or trying to influence or prevent patients' access to services. 

It will make it an offence to act in a certain way within a safe access zone. This includes:

  • Influencing another person's decision to access abortion services 

  • Impeding another person from accessing abortion services

  • To cause harassment, alarm, or distress to another person in connection to their decision to acces, provide, or facilitate provision of abortion services

Examples of these acts include holding up signs with anti-abortion messages, physically blocking the entrances to the premises, and protesting. 

Anyone who commits an offence could face a fine of up to £10,000, or an unlimited fine in the most serious cases, the Bill proposes. 

Why is the Safe Access Zones Bill being introduced? 

The Bill is aimed at protecting access to abortion services in Scotland, ensuring people can access the services without intimidation, harassment, and public judgement. 

It also aims to ensure patients are protected from attempts to influence or persuade them in relation to their decision to access services. 

And the Bill  intends to ensure staff are protected from attempts to influence their decision to provide abortion services. 

Currently, anti-abortion protests take place outside a number of abortion providers in Scotland, with the most prominent at Glasgow Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) and Chalmers clinic in Edinburgh. 

What are the arguments for Buffer Zones?

The Herald: Back Off Scotland has been at the forefront of the buffer zones campaignBack Off Scotland has been at the forefront of the buffer zones campaign (Image: NQ)

Campaigners argue buffer zones are needed to prevent intimidation and harassment when accessing reproductive healthcare services. 

Back Off Scotland, the grassroots campaign which has been at the forefront of calls for buffer zones, argues the right to privacy and the right to access essential medical services should be protected. 

The group has collected testimonies from thousands of women across Scotland who have shared their experiences of being harassed outside abortion clinics. 

Read more: Back Off Scotland: The fight for abortion buffer zones

Women have reported being shouted at, called "murderer" and given medical misinformation by anti-abortion protesters. 

Back Off Scotland says: "This is not about preventing freedom of speech or silencing either side of a debate. It's about ensuring people’s right to seek medical care, free from intimidation."​

What are the arguments against Buffer Zones?

The Herald: A vigil being held outside an abortion clinicA vigil being held outside an abortion clinic (Image: Unknown)

Critics of the plans for buffer zones argue banning protest and vigils would threaten rights to freedom of speech, religion and protest.

Christians have said the Bill would be "extreme" and would amount to "criminalising prayer"

In a submission to the Bill's consultation, the Bishops' Conference of Scotland said it would "criminalise people for expressing certain views and occupying certain spaces". 

Read more: MSPs told 'extreme' abortion clinic buffer zones 'criminalise prayer

The group agreed obstructing access to facilities shout not be permitted, but argued police currently have sufficient powers to prevent that. 

It has also been argued the protests/vigils expose women to "alternative" options to abortion, however this is already provided by medical experts. 

What is the next stage for the Safe Access Zones Bill in Scottish Parliament?

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill is currently being examined by the health committee. 

Over the next few weeks or even months, the committee will hear evidence from experts, organisations, and people about the Bill. 

Scottish Parliament will then debate the Bill and decide whether it should be put forward to Stage 2 for possible amendments to be made. 

Read more: MSPs to begin taking evidence on abortion clinic buffer zones

A deadline of May 3 has been set for the initial vote on the Bill.

If the Bill passes to stage two, MSPs can propose amendments to it which will be debated and decided on by the health committee. 

If any amendments are made, a new version of the Bill will be published and it will go to Stage 3. This will see, further amendments, debate and a final vote on the Bill. 

If the Bill is then voted for by Scottish Parliament it will be be sent for Royal Assent and then turned into an Act, which means it will become law