Anti abortion protesters standing outside a hospital

Reproductive Rights

We support a person’s right to choose an abortion without fear of legal repercussions, and to access abortion services without facing intimidation or harassment.

Back Off Scotland

Bodily autonomy is a key tenet of humanism, as defined in the Amsterdam Declaration. We support an individual’s right to choose an abortion without fear of legal repercussions, and to access abortion services without facing intimidation or harassment. Humanist Society Scotland is allied with  Back Off Scotland in calling for safe access or “buffer” zones around abortion clinics to protect people using the services from religious harassment. We also support Gillian Mackay MSP’s Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill, which seeks to write buffer zones into Scottish law, as well as wider campaigns to fully decriminalise abortion in Scotland.

The problem

Clinics that offer abortion services in Scotland have become the focal point of anti-abortion protests. These were spearheaded by a US-based Evangelical Christian organisation called 40 Days for Life. However, protests in Scotland have attracted people from various Christian denominations, including the Catholic Church. Protestors stand next to or near to clinic entrances with placards, hold prayer vigils, and hand out unsolicited literature often containing misinformation.

There is ample evidence to suggest that the presence of anti-abortion protestors is distressing and harmful  to people using abortion services. Individuals seeking abortions have reported feeling harassed and intimidated when accessing a safe and legal health service that they need. People accessing other services (for pregnancy loss and sexual health clinics for example) and clinic staff have also reported feeling intimidated by protestors. 

The wider background to these protests is the historic status of abortion in Christian culture as shameful and morally wrong. As a result of this inheritance, abortion is still not fully decriminalised in Scotland. Instead, the Abortion Act 1967 set out certain criteria on which it is legally permissible.

The solution

Gillian Mackay MSP’s Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill will introduce safe access zones at all sites that provide abortion care in Scotland. This would mean that there would be a safe access zone with a perimeter of around 150 metres from the site entrance of any site providing abortion care. It would be unlawful to attempt to influence a person from accessing, providing, or facilitating the provision of abortion care within the safe access zone. 

Protestors would be free to hold anti-abortion protests outwith the safe access zone, so their freedom of speech and belief would be protected. But individuals exercising bodily autonomy by accessing safe and legal abortion care services would not be directly affected by the protests. Protestors would be able to voice their opinions outside the Scottish parliament for example, where decisions around abortion care are made, leaving health services free of the disruption and upset their activities cause.

As part of the wider campaign to fully destigmatise the right to an abortion, we are also joining organisations such as Engender in calling for full decriminalisation of abortion.

Our campaign

We have supported the Back Off Scotland campaign group since it started in 2020 and will continue to do so as Gillian Mackay’s bill passes through the Scottish Parliament. We have provided advice and financial support to the campaign and encouraged our members and supporters to support the bill as it is debated and voted on at Holyrood.

We also support actions and legal challenges that create pressure to fully decriminalise abortion healthcare across Scotland, and were proud to co-sign a letter to first minister Humza Yousaf resulting in the creation of a working group on decriminalisation of abortion. We will work with partner organisations and allies such as Back Off Scotland and Engender to fight for this outcome.

Support our campaign work, make a donation today

Our campaign work is funded by the generous support of our members and supporters. Support our campaign work and help to create a fairer Scotland and world.

Handwriting a letter

Join us!

Your membership will help to fund our campaign work to make Scotland a more secular, rational, and socially just country, and to ensure everyone in Scotland has access to humanist ceremonies to mark important life events.

Two people in a conference crowd laughing

Latest Related Stories

Black and white picture of Dr Lynsey Mitchell standing in a street. Lynsey is wearing a leather jacket and looking at the camera and smiling.

Decriminalising abortion in Scotland: future-proofing Scots law

Decriminalising abortion in Scotland: future-proofing Scots law
An abortion rights rally in Belfast in 2012. Protestors carry signs bearing slogans such as "rich women have abortions, poor women have babies." "legalise not criminalise," and more.

What Scotland can learn from the Supreme Court ruling on Northern Ireland’s buffer zone law

What Scotland can learn from the Supreme Court ruling on Northern Ireland’s buffer zone law
Gillian Mackay MSP speaks at a podium infront of a Humanist Society Scotland banner.

Humanist Society interview series: Gillian Mackay MSP on her buffer zones bill

Humanist Society interview series: Gillian Mackay MSP on her buffer zones bill
An extremely long line of anti-abortion protestors outside a hospital holding candles, with a fence and trees behind them, pictured from across the road.

Health committee backs buffer zones but remains divided on “silent prayer”

Health committee backs buffer zones but remains divided on “silent prayer”