Widespread opposition to abortion clinic buffer zones in Scotland

(Photo: Unsplash)

A public consultation about proposals to introduce abortion clinic 'buffer zones' across Scotland has revealed widespread opposition.

Over three quarters of respondents (77%) to the Scottish Parliament consultation said they disagreed with the "overall purpose" of Gillian McKay's Bill.

Her Bill proposes the introduction of buffer zones nationwide that would ban vigils and other pro-life activity, including silent prayer and offers of assistance, within 200m of an abortion clinic. However, local authorities would be permitted to expand the parameter to an unlimited extent. 

The scope of the Bill includes anything that is "visible or audible" within a buffer zone, which pro-life groups say could see private home owners or churches criminalised for displaying signs in their windows offering help.

Right to Life said the Bill could catch out conversations that take place in private homes or outside churches if they are audible inside a buffer zone.

Anyone convicted of breaching the buffer zone could be fined up to £10,000 or receive an unlimited fine.

There were 5,858 responses to the consultation, led by the Scottish Parliament's Health, Social Care, and Sport Committee. Only a fifth (22%) supported the Bill's proposals. 

The results of the consultation correspond with findings from a Savanta ComRes poll in which less than a third (30%) of Scots supported the introduction of nationwide buffer zones.

The Health, Social Care, and Sport Committee has already agreed to the overall principles of the Bill.

Right to Life warned that the Bill would introduce the "world's most extreme abortion buffer zone law" to Scotland. 

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said it would deprive women of vital support.

"Many women have been helped outside abortion clinics by pro-life volunteers who have provided them with practical support, which made it clear to them that they had another option other than going through with the abortion," she said. 

"The proposed law change would mean that the vital practical support provided by volunteers outside abortion clinics will be removed for women and many more lives would likely be lost to abortion.

"This is a truly draconian piece of legislation that reaches into the homes of ordinary people. It creates an offence for being publicly pro-life. It is direct viewpoint discrimination.

"No one else is penalised for hanging the flag of their favourite football team from their window, or having a 'Vote Labour' sign, but if an individual or a church wants to display a sign, from within their own property, which says 'Pregnant? We can help', they may be guilty of violating this buffer zone legislation.

"This legislation is not only a direct attack on free expression and public association based on viewpoint, it is entirely unnecessary insofar as harassment and intimidation are already illegal. Wherever they occur, existing legislation can and should be used to put a stop to them."