SCOTTISH ministers are considering mediation with anti-abortion protesters in a bid to understand “the issues and perspective from all sides”.

Campaigners for buffer zones - which would stop the demonstrations happening outside hospitals - have hit out at the government, accusing them of "already failing at their responsibility to make sure that citizens can access healthcare without facing harassment."

According to newly released minutes of a meeting of the ministerial working group on abortion buffer zones in February, consultants from the Centre for Good Relations called for engagement “with all interested parties, not just those who are directly involved with the conflict itself”. 

The Scottish Government agreed to “explore the option of dialogue”.

That was despite the working group - whose members include health ministers Maree Todd, and Ben MacPherson, as well as senior police officers, representatives from health boards and councils - saying it might be “difficult for common ground to be found”

The minute says: “In discussion, the group noted that it could be difficult to bring the various parties together, given the protests/vigils are organised by a number of different groups and it is not always the same individuals attending. 

“The group also identified that abortion is a highly sensitive subject that provokes strong views, which might make it difficult for common ground to be found. 

“On balance, the group reflected that understanding the issues and perspective from all sides may still be a useful outcome in and of itself.

“It was agreed that the SG would explore the option of dialogue further with members of the group and the Centre for Good Relations, potentially looking at trialling scoping in one location first.”

The possible mediation surprised campaigners for buffer zones, who have long criticised the Scottish Government for acting at a glacial pace to implement what was a promise in the SNP’s 2021 manifesto and subsequent Women's Health Strategy.

Lucy Grieve, from Back Off Scotland, said: “The government are already failing at their responsibility to make sure that citizens can access healthcare without facing harassment.

“As the FM said at FMQs last week that she ‘condems in the strongest possible terms’ this type of harassment so it’s concerning that they’re wanting to enter a dialogue with a group that, as 40 Days for Life state, want to ‘end the scourge of abortion’.” 

The 40 Days of Life campaign sees Christian groups campaign for an end to abortion “through prayer and fasting, community outreach, and a peaceful all-day vigil in front of abortion businesses.” 

Earlier this month, more than 100 protesters staged a demonstration outside Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Protests were held in Edinburgh and Aberdeen as well, but it was the scale of the Glasgow turnout that shocked campaigners. 

The demonstration prompted a total of 76 consultants there to call on Ms Todd, the women’s health minister, to "show courage" and introduce protest-free "buffer zones" across all clinics following a surge in protests from pro-life groups.

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. 

Ms Todd has promised to look at a members' bill being tabled by Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay. 

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

In the minute of the February meeting, Ms Todd also said there was a need to “have better evidence of the scale of the protests and their impact.” 

“It was noted that this would be a long term project, and the outputs of the research were unlikely to be ready for the introduction of Ms MacKay’s members' bill, but may be useful to develop an evidence base which could help to support any future policies.”

The working group met again last week. The minutes of that meeting are yet to be published.