Northern Ireland abortion buffer zone ruling is a ‘historic day’ – Green MSP

A Scottish Green MSP who proposed the implementation of buffer zones around abortion clinics has welcomed a judgment allowing similar legislation in Northern Ireland.

The UK Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday the Abortion (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill was within the legislative competence of Stormont, making passage of a similar law in Scotland potentially easier.

Gillian Mackay proposed the Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill earlier this year to prevent protest outside abortion clinics in Scotland.

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While the Scottish Government has backed the principles of the legislation, there were concerns about its legalities and how it would impact on free speech.

After the judgment was handed down, Ms Mackay said: “This is a very welcome decision, and a truly historic day for reproductive rights. It will provide vital and much-needed protections.

“Abortion rights are healthcare, and this sets a crucial precedent for the introduction of my Bill to introduce buffer zones in Scotland.

“The 12,000 responses that I received for my consultation show the strength of feeling. All over the world, anti-choice activists are trying to crack down on abortion rights.

“We can’t stand still, and must always be looking to entrench and expand those rights.

“Nobody should be obstructed or harassed when accessing healthcare yet, all across Scotland, people are being forced to endure a gauntlet of graphic images and abuse when accessing abortion services.

“This is totally wrong and I look forward to the day when my Bill will end such shameful scenes for good.”

The Court’s judgment found that the Northern Ireland legislation did not impact on the right to free expression as laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights.

Responding to the judgment, Scotland’s women’s health minister, Maree Todd, said the Government would engage with Ms Mackay on her Bill “as soon as possible”.

“I’m extremely pleased the Supreme Court has protected the rights of women to access abortion services without fear of harassment in Northern Ireland,” she said.

“We are currently carefully considering the UK Supreme Court’s judgment and will be discussing it with Gillian Mackay MSP and what it means for taking her Bill forward as soon as possible.

“We’re committed to safeguarding access to all healthcare without intimidation for women in Scotland.”

Labour’s women’s health spokeswoman, Carol Mochan, welcomed the judgment, but said the Scottish Government has “left us playing catch up”.

“There is cross-party consensus on making buffer zones happen and Government should be moving faster on this,” she said.

“We must work together to find space to pass this Bill.

“It is time to follow our neighbours’ lead and do more to ensure women have safe and secure access to abortion services.”