Nicola Sturgeon backs legislation to bring in abortion clinic buffer zones across Scotland

(Photo: Scottish Parliament)

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has expressed her support for legislation that would restrict pro-life activity around abortion clinics.

The Scottish government has been under pressure to introduce abortion clinic buffer zones across Scotland. 

The First Minister suggested this week that pro-lifers should protest in front of the Scottish Parliament instead of abortion clinics and "leave women alone".

She told MSPs that she supports legislation that would bring in a nationwide ban on gatherings outside abortion clinics. 

"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," she said.

"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." 

A national debate has opened up about gatherings outside abortion clinics after a backlash against pro-life vigils outside the Sandyford clinic in Glasgow.

Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay has launched a Bill that would introduce 150m buffer zones around abortion clinics. Anyone who offers help or support to women within this zone would be committing a crime punishable by up to two years in prison.

Sturgeon was asked about what short-term measures could be put into place to stop gatherings outside abortion clinics. She suggested that anti-social behaviour laws (ASBOs) "may have an impact or a relevance here".

"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," she said.

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

In May, Sturgeon announced a summit to address the issue. She confirmed that the summit will take place this month and "bring together a range of interests", including local authorities and the police. 

"Let me just repeat my commitment to find solutions here and to find those solutions as quickly as possible," she told MSPs.

"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."

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) has defended the vigils outside Sandyford and is urging the Scottish government not to impose a ban. 

Michael Robinson, SPUC's Executive Director (Public Affairs and Legal Services) said: "Those who turn up near to the locations where abortions are carried out, to offer prayer and help, do so with the greatest compassion and sensitivity.

"I know the hospital in Glasgow very well and for anyone to suggest that the location where people stand to pray could in anyway invade someone's privacy or intimidate anyone, is completely preposterous.

"They are many hundreds of yards from any entrance to the buildings and they cannot even see who is entering the hospital building from where they are positioned.

"What such vigils do is offer a last glimmer of support for women who need somewhere else to turn when they have otherwise been made to feel abortion is their only option."

A campaign group, Compassion Scotland, has recently been set up to challenge the proposed ban. 

Spokeswoman Hannah McNicol said, "It is vitally important women have every possible opportunity to access support that will enable them to make a truly empowered choice.

"Censorship zones would end one important means of signposting support to vulnerable women who have nowhere else to turn."