World’s most extreme abortion buffer zone law proposed for Scotland

World’s most extreme abortion buffer zone law proposed for Scotland

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.