Religious groups opposed to plans to create buffer zones outside abortion clinics are to give evidence at Holyrood today.  

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill has been under consideration at Holyrood’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee in recent weeks, taking evidence from those generally in favour of the legislation. 

Today, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland vice president Bishop John Keenan will appear before the committee. 

He has said the proposals were “extreme” and “patronising to women”, while his submission also raised questions about the impact of the Bill on human rights. 

However, Green MSP Gillian Mackay, who is steering te Bill through parliament, said women seeking an abortion or other healthcare at such clinics “feel judged, intimidated and harassed” by vigils taking place outside. 

“They have seen all of the same testimonies and evidence that I have. Nobody should have to go through that to access healthcare,” she said. 

“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.” 

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

The submission also questioned what constitutes harassment for the purpose of 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?”