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  • Compassion Scotland

Buffer zones law would diminish support for women in crisis

A bill to impose mandatory censorship zones outside hospitals and other settings in Scotland where abortions take place would diminish support available to women and unfairly restrict free expression, campaigners warn.

Compassion Scotland argues that the right to offer support to women in crisis pregnancies is “vitally important”, and describes legislation to criminalise such activity as “undemocratic” and “wholly unnecessary”.

Proposals announced by Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay today would introduce 150m ‘buffer zones’ around places where abortions take place. People who offer help or support to women within this area would commit a crime.

Hannah McNicol, spokeswoman for Compassion Scotland, commented:

“In this one-sided debate, it’s important to recognise that many people in Scotland do not endorse censorship zones. Many women know the positive interactions that take place each year outside hospitals and other settings, which would now be criminalised if Ms Mackay’s bill was to be successful.

“Women in crisis pregnancies often don’t want to have an abortion. Recent research suggests 15% of abortions are the result of coercion. Given this, it is vitally important women have every possible opportunity to access support that will enable them to make a truly empowered choice. Censorship zones would end one important means of signposting support to vulnerable women who have nowhere else to turn.

“These measures are wholly unnecessary and disproportionate. Freedom of Information requests confirm there were no recorded incidents of intimidation or harassment at thirteen different locations where abortions occur between 2016 and 2021 – the most recent data available. Furthermore, Police already have powers to combat intimidating or antisocial behaviour.

Ms McNicol continued:

“Censorship zones would be an undemocratic, and potentially illegal, infringement of free expression. Scots have every right to offer support to women considering an abortion, including beside healthcare settings. The bill introduced today would censor the expression of lawful speech in Scotland and create a dangerous precedent for the curtailment of other, counter cultural views by future governments.

“Should this legislation find support in the Scottish Parliament, it will likely be subject to legal challenges by those who support civil liberties, and the right of women in difficult circumstances to receive compassionate help from other women. We urge the government to rule out supporting this bill early, to prevent a costly and unnecessary legal battle.”

Freedom of Information requests reveal there were no recorded incidents of intimidation or harassment at thirteen different locations across Scotland between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2021.

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