Nicola Sturgeon to convene second abortion summit

(Photo: Scottish Parliament)

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is to hold a second summit on abortion access and buffer zones around abortion clinics. 

"The First Minister will convene a meeting with representatives from COSLA [Convention of Scottish Local Authorities] and the most affected Local Authorities on 29 August," a spokesperson for the Scottish government said, according to The National.

"The meeting will focus on the bye-law process and aims to continue discussions with local government on how best to protect patient rights in the shorter term, whilst national legislation is progressed."

The announcement came in the same week as a public consultation on abortion clinic buffer zones closed. 

The consultation received 12,000 responses to a private members bill by Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay that proposes introducing 150-metre buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland.

The buffer zones would prevent pro-lifers from holding vigils, praying and approaching women attending the clinics with information or offers of assistance within a 150-metre radius.

Ms Mackay has accused pro-lifers of subjecting women to "intimidation and harassment" outside abortion clinics. 

Opponents argue that the buffer zones will lead to "censorship" and prevent vulnerable women from obtaining information and support.

The last abortion summit convened by Sturgeon was held in Edinburgh in June. 

At that summit, the First Minister suggested that buffer zones could be piloted in Edinburgh and Glasgow. 

"Gatherings of this kind create additional stress for anyone using these facilities, for any purpose, and for those who work in them. But for women accessing abortion services the upset, distress and fear that they cause can be profound," she said. 

"At what is already a very stressful time, women are being forced to see or make their way past these groups on the way in. And once they're inside, on top of everything else, there's the knowledge that they may have to see them again on the way out.

"In my view, the current situation is unacceptable, and it's one which we must address as a matter of urgency. I am determined that we do so.

"There are issues that we need to solve to establish buffer zones through legislation but if we work together in a spirit of solidarity, I am confident we can find a way."

The Scottish government has commissioned research into the "prevalence and scale" of pro-life activity outside abortion clinics in Scotland.

NHS Grampion announced this week that it would not be introducing automatic buffer zones. 

Sarah Duncan, NHS Grampian board secretary, said: "We are mindful of the need not to draw attention to facilities where protesters might not be gathering at the moment so NHS Grampian would not want automatic provision of a buffer zone around all facilities as this would just draw attention to them.

"We can see the desirability of having a process to apply for a zone to be implemented if required."