A CONSULTATION on legislating for buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland in order to keep pro-life protesters at bay has attracted more than 12,000 responses.

Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay sought the public’s views on a proposed bill to bring in the zones, following their introduction south of the border.

The aim is to protect the women using the facilities, and their staff, from harassment and intimidation by anti-abortion demonstrators.

Ms Mackay’s proposed Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill would allow for a 150-metre buffer around hospitals and clinics. 

Clinicians have reported being unable to work in certain areas of their clinics because of disruption caused by protests, while service users were reportedly intimidated.

The consultation closed yesterday and the responses from the public and organisations will now be analysed before the Bill is put to Holyrood.

Ms Mackay said: “Nobody should be intimidated or harassed when accessing healthcare.

“I am grateful to everyone who has taken the time to share their views on my proposed Bill.

“I appreciate that the length of time the parliamentary process takes can be frustrating, but consultation is a vital part of that process and I am confident that these responses will help me develop the most robust Bill possible.

“My team has already begun analysing the responses and I will work with parliamentary officials and MSPs across parliament to progress my proposals as rapidly as possible.”

The Scottish Government initially discounted legislating for a national approach, saying councils could rely on byelaws to address the issue.

But the council umbrella body Cosla obtained a legal opinion disputing that.

A key obstacle to creating buffer zones is that protesters have a right to freedom of speech, and the UK Supreme Court has ruled legitimate protests in other contexts can be disruptive. 

Since Ms Mackay started her campaign, Nicola Sturgeon has come around to the idea of legislation, and convened a summit on abortion services and buffer zones.

In June, the First Minister said she hoped that Glasgow and Edinburgh - the scene of religious ‘vigils’ against abortion and other protests - could trial buffer zones using byelaws as a short-term measure to prevent “fear, harassment or intimidation”.

She said the Scottish Government would fully support any “test council” through the “inevitable legal challenges”.

The London borough of Ealing took three years to set up the UK’s first buffer zone around an abortion clinic in 2018 using public nuisance legislation with no current Scottish equivalent.