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New bill introduces world’s most extreme abortion buffer zone law to Scotland

The flag of Scotland. / Credit: Lynx Aqua/Shutterstock

London, England, Oct 14, 2023 / 07:00 am (CNA).

The Catholic Church in Scotland has warned that a draft law concerning buffer zones around abortion clinics would “crush” freedom of expression and religion.

The new bill, sponsored by Gillian Mackay, member of the Scottish Parliament (MSP), would make any form of pro-life outreach or demonstration within 200 meters (656 feet) of an abortion clinic illegal, meaning that the new law would be the “most extreme” in the world, according to pro-life organizations.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Scotland told CNA in a statement on Oct. 9 that “Gillian Mackay’s proposals are the very definition of intolerance; they would crush and curtail expressions of speech, religion, association, and conscience. It is to be hoped that MSPs will reject them.”

The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill would create a minimum of 656 feet of “safe access” surrounding any premises that perform abortions and would also allow abortion providers to make an application to extend the relevant buffer zone ever further.

This would be more extreme than neighboring England and Wales’ Public Order Act (2023), which sets the limits of buffer zones at 150 meters (492 feet) and does not permit extensions.

Under Scotland’s proposed law it would be illegal to try to influence a woman contemplating an abortion, which could extend to effectively criminalize silent prayer.

Because the law would also apply to “residential buildings” within the buffer zone, this may mean that residents could not even display a pro-life poster in their window without risk of a £10,000 fine (more than $12,000) on a summary conviction or an unlimited fine on indictment.

Catherine Robinson, spokesperson for the organization Right to Life UK, 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 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.”

Robinson went on to express concern that as a result of the legislation, pregnant women needing practical help would be denied this, and more babies’ lives would be lost. She continued: “Polling from Savanta ComRes shows that only 30% of the population in Scotland supports the introduction of nationwide buffer zones around abortion clinics.”

“This is a truly draconian piece of legislation that reaches into the homes of ordinary people,” she said. “It creates an offense for being publicly pro-life. It is direct viewpoint discrimination.”

“No one else is penalized for hanging the flag of their favorite football [soccer] team from their window, or having a ‘Vote Labour’ 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.”

She concluded: “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.”

The Scottish Parliament is currently in recess so it is not yet known when the bill will next be debated or voted upon.

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