Campaigners warn women fear harassment as pro-life groups begin 'vigils' at Edinburgh clinic

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Campaigners warn vulnerable women seeking abortions fear harassment after the Scottish Government refused a protesters ban, as pro-life group targets a clinic with ‘vigils’.

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Back Off Scotland has criticised the Scottish Government for refusing to implement protest-free areas around abortion clinics, claiming it’s a ‘frightening dismissal’ of concerns that puts women at risk.

Despite agreeing with their conerns, Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd told the campaign group that national legislation supporting the move for 150m buffer zones was ‘not on the cards’, as the Government fears losing court action brought by the pro-life lobby.

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Lucy Grieve called for urgent national action to protect womenLucy Grieve called for urgent national action to protect women
Lucy Grieve called for urgent national action to protect women

This perceived U-turn has prompted fresh calls from campaigners and opposition parties for urgent action amid claims the Government position of ‘supporting’ councils to bring in buffer zones is ‘lip service’ and fails to protect women.

Back Off Scotland, which was founded by University of Edinburgh students, said its some of the most vulnerable women facing harassment, including those who have to travel to a clinic because they have had complications during the pregnancy.

Edinburgh City Council passed a motion in February supporting buffer zones after Back Off Scotland successfully lodged a petition.

But seven months later the council has no plans in place and Glasgow has thrown out the bid, claiming it’s the responsibility of the Government.

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Meanwhile, 40 days of life has started holding ‘prayer vigils’ outside Edinburgh’s Chalmers sexual health clinic – and others across the country – until the end of October.

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New figures show women in two thirds of health board areas across Scotland now face being targeted by anti-choice groups. Many reported the presence of these groups is upsetting.

Scottish Labour and the Liberal Democrats have backed calls for similar buffer zones to those in place in England.

Back Off Scotland Director Lucy Grieve said: “Our buffer zone motion passed through Edinburgh council but they’ve not enacted it.

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“Here we are seven months later and women still face harassment. It feels performative, like it’s just lip service.”

"And it’s some of the most vulnerable women who will be targeted, those who are later in term or have complications during the pregnancy, so they need to travel to a clinic.”

“It’s disheartening to see such an abdication of responsibility from the Scottish Government and councils in protecting women from harassment. Inaction and a clear dismissal of concerns by the Scottish Government is frightening. We need action now to preserve our reproductive rights and autonomy.”

Rachael Clarke, Head of Public Affairs and Policy at British Pregnancy Advisory Service said: "BPAS are deeply disappointed to hear the stance of the Scottish government. Two thirds of women in Scotland now live in areas where hospitals that provide abortion services are targeted by anti-abortion groups - nearly 10,000 women who had an abortion last year had to fear that if they turned up to a clinic there would be people outside to harass them.

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"This is not a local problem - it's a national one. It needs legislation to address it.”

‘Vigil’ organisers say they don’t harass anyone and claim they are there to pray for the unborn and offer help to women.

A council spokesperson said: “We are aware of the Scottish Government's position and are considering our next steps."

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