82% of Scots demand end to abortion clinic protests

January 25, 2021

Findings from a new poll show that Scots strongly support governmental action to limit protests which take place outside NHS facilities offering abortion services.

The poll found that more than 8 in 10 agreed with stopping protesters targeting users of NHS facilities while only 4% disagreed. Protests outside NHS facilities have existed in Scotland for decades but have become more widespread since 2014 when American-founded anti-abortion groups moved in.

Commenting on the findings, Professor Maggie Kinloch from Humanist Society Scotland said,

This research unequivocally shows public backing for restricting protests that deliberately target individual healthcare service users. These protests are often orchestrated by ultra-conservative religious groups who believe a woman’s role in life is simply to be a mother.

We ask the Scottish Government to make clear what they support: the rights of women to privacy and to access the services they deem appropriate to their healthcare, or the rights of the protestors to harass them in the street.

Lucy Grieve, co-founder of the campaign group Back Off Scotland, said,

The findings of this new poll show strong levels of support for buffer zones – the ultimate goal of our campaign. It’s now time for the Scottish Government to act, and legitimise buffer zones around all clinics providing abortion services in Scotland.

Protests involve groups of varying sizes seeking to dissuade individual pregnant women and people from accessing abortion services – using signs, loudspeakers, medically inaccurate leaflets, and by waylaying and following patients and passersby. This is not a protest in the usual sense. Clinic protesters are not seeking to change the law or influence the opinions of decision-makers – they are present to pressure individual women seeking abortions into making different decisions about their healthcare. They rely on being able to access people in a vulnerable position.

Across Scotland, both hospitals and clinics are targeted. Many of the reports received are not from women accessing abortion care, but from those who are pregnant, who have experienced miscarriage in the past, or who are attending the hospital with their children. 

One woman passing the Chalmers Centre in Edinburgh in 2020 told the national Back Off campaign (of which Humanist Society Scotland is a part),

While walking with my baby in the pram, I passed one protester standing on the pavement outside centre. She tried to hand me a leaflet which clearly had anti-choice messaging… I spoke to her about what she was doing… She looked into my baby’s pram and said ‘but there’s a reason you didn’t want to murder your own baby’.

I walked away and she shouted after me ‘You are a hypocrite. You knew she was a baby and you knew she was in your womb. Would you kill her too?’

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