Calls for more powers to protect women attending abortion clinics

Power to protect women attending abortion clinics should be given to local councils, the Scottish Government has been told.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton has called for stronger protections for women at abortion clinics, including the ability for local authorities to set up buffer zones.

Under current rules, Scottish councils have to appeal to the Government for permission to restrict anti-abortion protests outside clinics.

Although Scotland’s Minister for Public Health Joe FitzPatrick said he would consider proposals for buffer zones from local authorities, Mr Cole-Hamilton argued that councils should have the power to protect women from “intimidating” anti-abortion protests.

Mr Cole-Hamilton said: “The Scottish Government have been exceptionally slow off the mark to address the intimidating protests outside abortion clinics across the country where women are seeking sensitive care.

“Unlike local authorities in England, councils in Scotland do not have the power to introduce buffer zones. I am pleased there is some movement in the Government’s position and that the minister is open to receiving by-laws applications, but frankly that’s still not good enough.

“Councils should have the ability to respond to local circumstances and introduce buffer zones around facilities providing medical care, without having to ask SNP ministers for permission.

“Every patient should be able to access the medical treatment they need without fear of harassment or intimidation. The Scottish Government should be giving councils the power to protect women.”

The call follows protests outside clinics in Glasgow, Edinburgh and Larbert over recent months, while Glasgow City Council revealed it was working with Cosla to propose changes at a national level.

In a letter sent to the South Queensferry MSP, Mr FitzPatrick wrote that local authorities would have to create by-laws to restrict protests, which would need Scottish Government approval.

He added: “I recognise that anti-abortion protests can be distressing for women and staff attending hospitals or clinics.

“I would encourage those councils who have concerns about abortion protests to consider whether making a by-law would be appropriate in their area.

“Scottish Government would need to confirm the use of these by-laws in each case where a council proposed to use them – and I would consider any proposal that came forward.”

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