Scottish Green Party MSP, Gillian Mackay, has published a bill that proposes introducing the most extreme abortion buffer zone laws in the world in Scotland, making it illegal to offer assistance to women seeking an abortion within 200m of an abortion clinic or hospital, and could even fine people in their own homes for displaying pro-life signs.
While buffer zone legislation in England and Wales establishes a 150m buffer zone, the Scottish proposals will create a minimum 200m zone. The buffer zones introduced by this law would extend further than any other buffer zones in the world.
The 200m is a minimum, abortion providers can apply for the zone to be extended and 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.
Within these zones, the Bill will make it illegal to influence a person in regard to their decision “to access… the provision of abortion” in an abortion clinic or a hospital. These provisions would make offers of help to women seeking an abortion illegal within a buffer zone, and could even criminalise silent prayer.
Anyone who commits an offence under the proposed legislation would be fined up to £10,000 on a summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on indictment.
Criminalised for displaying pro-life signs in your own home?
The Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill 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.
The Explanatory Notes state: “[I]f a person who lives in a building in the area within the boundary of the safe access zone displays an anti-abortion sign in the window of their building with the intention of influencing another person’s decision to access abortion services at the nearby protected premises and leaves that sign on display, an offence could [be] committed if an affected person sees or could have seen the sign at any time. It is not necessary for the affected person to be present at the time the accused affixes the sign to the window”.
In other words, within the boundaries of the zone, if someone puts a pro-life sign in their own window that is visible within the zone, they may have committed an offence and can be fined.
Anyone who commits an offence can be fined up to £10,000 on a summary conviction, or an unlimited fine on indictment.
Polling shows lack of public support for nationwide buffer zones
Polling from Savanta ComRes shows 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”.
“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”.
“No one else is penalised for hanging the flag of their favourite football team from their window, or having a ‘Vote Green’ sign, but if an individual or a church wants to display a sign, from within their own property, which says ‘Pregnant? We can help’, they may be guilty of violating this buffer zone legislation”.
“This legislation is not only a direct attack on free expression and public association based on viewpoint, it is entirely unnecessary insofar as harassment and intimidation are already illegal. Wherever they occur, existing legislation can and should be used to put a stop to them.”