HUMZA Yousaf has launched a “Women’s manifesto” in the final leg of the SNP leadership campaign in a coded dig at his main rival Kate Forbes.

The Health Secretary said the rights of women and girls would always be “central to the SNP” under his leadership, and warned against “complacency” in defending them.

Ms Forbes has said she will defend the right to abortion, but would not have one herself in line with her storing Christian faith and membership of the Free Church of Scotland.

Her first job in politics was funded by the anti-abortion evangelical CARE organisation.

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She has also said she would work with Green MSP Gillian Mackay if she becomes first minister to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics to stop intimidation.

However she has also said such a measure would have to be “balanced”, fuelling suspicion she might not ban religiously-inspired “vigils” outside clinics, despite complaints about them. 

Mr Yousaf said he would “protect and advance women’s access to abortion”, improve support for sex crime victims, help women into business and run a gender balanced cabinet. 

He also pointed to recent roll-backs of abortion rights in the United States and Poland, and warned ”regressive actors” could try to do the same elsewhere.

READ MORE: 'Ignorant' Yousaf asks Ukrainian refugees: Where are all the men?

He said: “All of us in the SNP should be immensely proud of the great strides we have taken in promoting women’s rights and gender equality in government – particularly over the last eight years.  From the world’s first gender-balanced Cabinet to free period products, the world’s first women’s health plan and taking a feminist approach to foreign policy, the SNP has taken bold and progressive action.

“But none of us can take our rights for granted - we have to defend them, we have to fight for them and, crucially, we have to vote for them.  

“We know that socially conservative political figures and movements are itching to attack women’s rights - and it’s up to us to stop them.

“In the United States, the Supreme Court’s judgement on Roe v Wade has opened the door to the right-wing removing women’s right to choose, and women in Poland are having to fight for their basic right to bodily autonomy.

“These examples show that we can never take our eye off the ball.  Any let-up in relentlessly and passionately defending and expanding women’s rights gives the opportunity for regressive actors to slip in the backdoor and begin dismantling them.

“That’s why I don’t just want to protect the rights women have fought so hard to secure – I want to advance them even further. 

“As First Minister, I’ll improve access to abortion care and will unequivocally support buffer zones to finally end intimidation of women who are simply seeking healthcare.  

“I’ll bring forward the Criminal Justice Reform Bill which will improve support for women who have experienced sexual offences.  And I’ll look to support more women in unlocking their economic potential – taking action to support Women’s Entrepreneurship and fast-tracking the delivery of free childcare for one and two-year olds to help parents, particularly women, back into work.

“I want women across Scotland to know that if I am elected First Minister, I will not allow one step back on your rights.  I’ll fight with you against any  attempts to undermine your right to  choose – and will work tirelessly to ensure women and girls in Scotland live in a truly equal society.”

The two-week ballot of the SNP's 72,000 members ends at noon on Monday and the winner is expected to be annonced mid-afternoon.

Mr Yousaf, Ms Forbes and former minister Ash Regan are standing to be party leader and first minister.