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MSP Gillian Mackay - Buffer Zones Scotland banner.jpg
MSP Gillian Mackay - Buffer Zones Scotland.jpg
SST / Alamy Stock Photo
UK News

Silent prayer divides Scottish Parliament as it backs buffer zones bill

by Premier Journalist

Buffer zones around abortion clinics, preventing protests, are necessary to protect vulnerable women, the Scottish Parliament’s health committee has ruled.

MSPs in the committee unanimously agreed that abortion clinics should be surrounded by 200 metres of protest-free space, in the first stage of Scotland’s proposed safe access zones law.

The bill, which is now at stage one, has, however, divided the parliament on the issue of whether to ban silent prayer vigils outside clinics. Critics say such legislation would veer into the realm of “thoughtcrime”.

Further consideration of silent prayer will be needed if the Bill proceeds, MSPs have said.

Catholic campaigner Isabel Vaughan-Spruce who was arrested and charged in 2022 for breaching an abortion clinic buffer zone in Birmingham, spoke to MSPs about the issue.

MSP John Mason, of the SNP, has also spoken out against buffer zones, saying putting them in place was “slightly overreacting” when in reality those protesting were small groups of elderly people.

Catherine Robinson of anti-abortion group Right to Life UK said the “vast majority” of Scots were opposed to the bill. She told The Independent newspaper that “only 30 per cent of the population in Scotland support the introduction of nationwide buffer zones around abortion clinics”, adding: “This committee has totally ignored the overwhelming opposition to this Bill and instead is supporting the introduction of the world’s most extreme buffer zone law in Scotland.”

Clare Haughey, health committee convener, said: “Our committee is united in backing the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill.

“We recognise the strong views it has generated and that not all are in favour of its introduction. But ultimately we believe the creation of safe access zones around abortion services is necessary to enforce the principle that everyone should be able to access healthcare free from intimidation or harassment.

“We understand there are competing human rights at play, but we have concluded this Bill strikes an appropriate balance.

“We held extensive discussions on the issue of silent prayer and while some members felt this should be exempt from the provisions in this Bill, other members felt an exemption would fundamentally undermine its purpose and that silent prayer can be intimidating to those accessing services.

“This will need further consideration if the Bill proceeds to stage two.”

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