Say no to censorship zones around Scottish abortion clinics

5 August 2022

The Scottish Parliament is currently consulting on a new proposal to introduce what it calls ‘safe access zones’ around all healthcare settings that provide abortion services.

Gillian Mackay, MSP and member of the Scottish Green Party, has lodged a new proposal to the Scottish Parliament which would ban prayer, protests and any offers of support outside abortion clinics, and even hospitals, in Scotland.

If you live in Scotland – and even if you don’t – please respond to the consultation, in your own words, laying out why this proposal is so dangerous. Read on below for some suggestions of points you could be making.

The consultation closes Thursday 11 August. You can also read the consultation document, which lays out the suggestions of the proposal in detail.

What is the proposal?

In her proposal, MSP Gillian Mackay argues that:

“In recent years, we have seen a rising number of protests outside of abortion clinics … Let’s be clear, for those who need it, abortion is healthcare and healthcare is a right. No-one should be harassed for exercising their bodily autonomy or their right to seek the healthcare they want or need.”

Her proposal therefore suggests that “everyone accessing these services can do so free from the presence of protesters.” Although it isn’t clear exactly who these ‘protestors’ are, groups like 40 Days for Life are named, which suggests that a Bill would ban any sort of pro-life presence outside abortion clinics and hospitals.

In fact, the proposal includes the following suggestions:

  • The introduction of safe access zones at all sites that provide abortion care, within which it is unlawful to influence or attempt to influence a person from accessing, providing, or facilitating the provision of abortion care;
  • A list of behaviour which is banned (see ‘Detail’ below);
  • A standard size of safe access zone with a perimeter of 150 metres from the entrance to any site which provides abortion care; and
  • The creation of a criminal offence of contravening the provisions of a safe access zone.

Banned behaviours include:

  • Persistently, continuously, or repeatedly occupying a safe access zone;
  • Impeding or blocking somebody’s path or an entrance to abortion services;
  • Intimidating or harassing a person;
  • Seeking to influence or persuade a person concerning their access to or employment in connection with abortion services;
  • Demonstrating using items such as leaflets, posters, and pictures specifically related to abortion; and
  • Photographing, filming, or recording a person in the zone.

For anyone found to be partaking in these behaviours, the punishment for a ‘first time offender’ could be up to 6 months in prison, or a fine; the punishment for a ‘repeat offender’ could be up to two years in prison.

‘Safe access zones’ are actually censorship zones

It’s not hard to see how this proposed legislation is aimed at pro-lifers. Silent prayer outside abortion clinics could also be argued to be ‘seeking to influence’, which would be a massive breach of a person’s right to manifest their faith and their freedoms of religion and expression.

However, even “persistently, continuously, or repeatedly occupying a safe access zone” could be seen as an offence, which rules out just about any pro-life activity outside of abortion clinics.

‘Safe access zone’ seems an ironic term, given they aren’t at all safe for pro-lifers, but instead shut down any sort of prayer, peaceful display or even support offered to women outside abortion clinics. What’s more, they are even more unsafe for preborn babies, whose mothers would be unable to access information, support and/or prayer outside the clinic. Many women who have encountered a pro-life presence outside an abortion clinic have spoken about how grateful they are for the information and support, such as Danny and Carla, who were helped by 40 Days for Life.

What points should I be making?

Whatever your thoughts on abortion itself, this consultation is seeking views on the creation of these ‘censorship zones’ outside clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services.

There are a total of 22 questions, many of which allow you to elaborate on your opinions.

The beginning 8 questions of the consultation go over your personal information. At question 9, the consultation asks what your overall view of the proposed Bill is; we suggest you select ‘Fully opposed’.

You also have an opportunity to elaborate on your response. You could lay out generally how the proposed bill is clearly anti- pro-life, and that these ‘safe access zones’ are not safe for pro-lifers, showing how they actually create a censorship zone that would breach freedom of religion and belief, and freedom of expression.

Questions 10 and 11 deal with the zones being introduced around all healthcare settings that provide abortion services. Again, we suggest you select ‘Fully opposed’.

Here, you can point out how there is no justification for a bill of this sort to be introduced around Scotland; there’s no real evidence that pro-life prayer vigils cause any ‘disruption’ or ‘harassment’ to those accessing the clinics. In fact, there is more evidence to suggest that the peaceful pro-lifers themselves are more often harassed by members of the public opposed to their presence.

Similarly, evidence suggests that peaceful prayer vigils are carried out in the larger cities, such as Edinburgh and Glasgow, meaning most abortion service providers have never even witnessed a pro-life prayer vigil, or even a demonstration or display.

Questions 13 to 15 deals with the idea of banning all ‘protests’. Here, you can make clear that ‘protest’ in the proposed legislation also includes these peaceful vigils, which opens the door wide to future legislation banning all forms of prayer, or even further restricting freedom of speech and the freedom to protest around Scotland. You can also point out that the vigils focus on offering support to women, which they may not get from the abortion provider.

Question 17 deals with potential punishments. We suggest that you point out that any punishment given to a person for praying or protesting would infringe on their human rights and their freedoms of religion and belief, and speech and expression.

Question 20 deals with equalities and the impact this legislation could have on different individuals in society. Here is a good place to point out how it discriminates against those with pro-life views. You might also want to point out that it could discriminate against a pregnant woman’s right to access information, if handing out information outside an abortion clinic or other healthcare provider is not allowed.

You can respond to the consultation online. The deadline is Thursday 11 August.

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