A row of anti-abortion protestors outside a hospital in Glasgow

MSPs must stop wrecking amendments to buffer zones bill

Joe Higgins, Policy and Campaigns Officer

May 27, 2024

MSPs will soon debate amendments to Gillian Mackay’s buffer zones bill. Some of the amendments are designed to wreck the legislation. The committee must reject them.

Health committee MSPs will meet on Tuesday 28 May to debate proposed changes to buffer zone legislation at Stage Two. There are a number of concerning amendments being proposed by MSPs. If agreed to by the committee, many of them would render the bill unworkable, providing clear loopholes for anti-abortion protests to continue.

Gillian Mackay MSP, who is taking the bill through parliament, has described Lothian MSP Jeremy Balfour’s proposed changes as “wrecking amendments” that could “undermine or weaken protections for service users and staff.” So, what do these amendments say?

Amendment 22

This amendment would create an exception for anti-abortion activists providing “chaplaincy services at protected premises.” Given the track record of misinformation and manipulative tactics from anti-abortion activists, we would strongly oppose any move that could formalise their role inside or outside abortion facilities.

Amendment 23

If passed, anti-abortion protests could take place when a clinic is closed. This would not protect staff members who arrive for their shift before opening hours or leave work after the clinic closes. Patients with appointments at the start or end of the day could also face anti-abortion protests.

We urge committee members to reject all of these amendments. The bill must fully protect patients exercising their right to an abortion and the staff providing this vitally important healthcare. Robust and workable safe access zones cannot come soon enough. 

Amendment 24

This would explicitly exempt silent prayer from the bill. As we have reported previously, the bill does not outlaw any specific acts within safe-access zones. Instead, it focuses on someone’s motivation to impede, alarm, or distress patients and staff. Introducing this exemption would severely undermine the bill and diminish the impact that silent judgement or prayer can have on those accessing and providing abortion.

Amendment 25

This amendment would introduce a defence of reasonableness” for people charged under buffer zones legislation. It would ask courts to consider whether an individual was exercising their human right to freedom of expression. As the UK Supreme Court has already ruled that safe access zones are a proportional and legitimate restriction on freedom of expression, we see no need to include this provision in the bill.

Fraser Sutherland, CEO of Humanist Society Scotland, said:

“We urge committee members to reject all of these amendments. The bill must fully protect patients exercising their right to an abortion and the staff providing this vitally important healthcare. Robust and workable safe access zones cannot come soon enough.”

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