NICOLA Sturgeon has suggested anti-social behaviour laws could be used to stop protesters gathering outside health clinics that carry out abortions. 

The First Minister told MSPs she was committed to bringing in buffer zone legislation that would apply nationally, but that there were “ legal complexities”.

In the meantime, she reiterated a commitment to support local councils to use bylaws to stop the gatherings. 

Demonstrations targeting health centres and hospitals across Scotland have intensified in recent months. 

Earlier this year, more than 100 protesters took to the road outside the entrance of Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

Evangelical preachers have now three times staged noisy disruptive protests outside the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow’s West End, preventing clinicians from doing their work at the centre, which provides a wide range of services, including rape counselling.

In May, the First Minister committed to holding a summit to discuss how to tackle the problem. 

During First Minister’s Questions, responding to a question from Labour MSP Carol Mochan, Ms Sturgeon gave more details about who else would be at the summit. 

Ms Mochan asked the SNP leader about a promise made on May 12 to support to councils who introduce bylaws to establish buffer zones at abortion clinics. 

However, when she asked Glasgow City Council about bringing this in, she was told to direct inquiries to the relevant ministerial Working Group. 

Ms Mochan said: “First Minister, it appears local and national government are at an impasse. I'm aware that long term planning is underway, but in the short term, we need solutions to protect these women. 

“If the Scottish Government believes that the only publicly available legal option is that just an opinion, will it reiterate in writing its offer of support to councils and do so before the summit later in the summer?”

Ms Sturgeon said: “I'll do that. I'll do that very openly today. I'm happy to put that in writing as well. But this is a pretty public way of doing it. 

“There are legal complexities around this and it doesn't help anybody for me to pretend that there aren't. These are complexities that local authorities and indeed national government want to work through. 

“My preference is that we would be able to legislate nationally in order that there is a consistency of approach in this. 

“We know though, there is a forthcoming Supreme Court case sparked by legislation in Northern Ireland, which will undoubtedly have an impact on the legal framework here. 

“But I am very clear on what I want to do. 

“In the meantime, I do want to work with local authorities to see what more can be done to protect women accessing sexual health services, including abortion services. 

“I find what is happening outside hospitals and outside the Sandyford completely and utterly unacceptable and let me make that clear. 

“The summit that I have committed to convening will happen this month, and that will bring together a range of interests here, including local authorities, including the police actually, who of course, operate independently but there is legislation around antisocial behaviour that also may have an impact or a relevance here. 

“Let me just repeat my commitment to find solutions here and to find those solutions as quickly as possible. 

“And lastly repeat my call to those who want to protest against abortion to come and do it outside this parliament where the laws are made and leave women alone and stop trying to intimidate them.”