The Health, Social Care and Sport Committee in Scotland is currently undertaking a consultation on a new Bill to introduce buffer zone legislation that would make it illegal to offer assistance to women seeking an abortion within 200m of any facility that performs abortions, and could even fine people for displaying pro-life signs in their own homes.
The consultation, which closes on Wednesday 20 December, is taking place as part of Stage 1 of the process by which a bill in Scotland becomes law. During this stage, the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee will gather views and produce a report that will be presented to the Scottish Parliament.
The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill, about which the public is being consulted, was introduced by Scottish Green Party MSP, Gillian Mackay, in October this year and will introduce the world’s most extreme buffer zone law to Scotland. Not only will the Bill require a 200m ‘safe access’ or buffer zone around any facility that performs abortions, but will even reach into people’s own homes.
Most extreme abortion buffer zone legislation in the world
As the preamble to one of the consultation questions explains, the provisions of the Bill apply “within 200 metres of protected premises but not on public land”. It goes on to state that “This could include displaying anti-abortion messaging from a balcony or window that can be seen from inside the safe access zone, or using a loudspeaker to protest in a way that can be heard from within a safe access zone.
The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill also make clear that the provisions of the Bill apply to “residential buildings” within the buffer zone. This means that it may be illegal to display a pro-life sign from within a church or within a person’s own home if it is visible within the buffer zone.
Anyone who commits an offence can be fined up to £10,000 on a summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on indictment.
Furthermore, the Bill gives the Scottish Government the power to extend any buffer zone beyond 200m if they judge that the existing zone “does not adequately protect” women seeking an abortion. There is no limit on the size of the buffer zone that can be created under this power.
The consultation can be undertaken as either a “short survey” in which respondents will be able to provide comments on the Bill in general, or a “structured call for evidence” where respondents will be able to provide detailed comments on individual provisions in the Bill.
Polling shows lack of public support for nationwide buffer zones
Polling from Savanta ComRes indicates that only 30% of the population in Scotland support the introduction of nationwide buffer zones around abortion clinics.
The poll assessed support for buffer zones of 150 metres, as will be introduced in England and Wales, so it is likely that support would be even lower for the Mackay buffer zone law given the proposed law in Scotland would introduce a more extreme 200m buffer zone.
Right To Life UK spokesperson Catherine Robinson said “If this bill becomes law, the world’s most extreme buffer zone law will be introduced in Scotland, and this survey is the public’s opportunity to reject this unnecessary and undemocratic piece of legislation”.
“This legislation goes further than any buffer zone legislation in any other jurisdictions, creating a larger buffer zone than anywhere else in the world and giving the Scottish Government powers to extend these zones without limit”.
“Many women have been helped outside abortion clinics by pro-life volunteers who have provided them with practical support, which made it clear to them that they had another option other than going through with the abortion”.
“The proposed law change would mean that the vital practical support provided by volunteers outside abortion clinics will be removed for women and many more lives would likely be lost to abortion”.
“This is a truly draconian piece of legislation that reaches into the homes of ordinary people. It creates an offence for being publicly pro-life. It is direct viewpoint discrimination”.