In Scotland, health spokesperson for the Scottish Greens, Gillian Mackay, has announced her intention to launch a Member’s Bill in Scottish Parliament that would create buffer zones around abortion clinics and healthcare centres that offer abortions throughout the country. Already in place in other commonwealth countries like Canada and Australia, a buffer zone law would prohibit the presence of anti-abortion protestors near clinics offering such services and, according to Mackay, allow women to “access healthcare unimpeded” without facing “harassment or intimidation while doing so.”
A Brief History of Abortions in Scotland
Scotland has a long pro-abortion history. In fact, the 1861 Offences Against the Person Act, which outlawed abortion in other parts of the UK, was never put into place in Scotland. While it wasn’t easy to find a doctor willing to perform the procedure in the 19th century, “there was nothing in law that strictly forbade a Scottish physician from performing or authorizing an abortion.”
In 1967, the Abortion Act was passed and became the law of the land in the U.K. The passing of the 1967 Act legalized abortions throughout the entirety of the U.K up to 24-weeks of pregnancy with the authorization of “two registered medical professionals” who deemed that the procedure was being performed for “good and sufficient reason.”
There have been changes in who presides over the legality of abortions in Scotland since 1967. However, the legality of the medical procedure itself has never been changed.
Abortions today in Scotland
In 2020, Scotland reported the “second highest number of terminations and highest termination rate were recorded” since 1991. Furthermore, 81% of abortions in the country were performed at under nine weeks gestation – an increase from 74.5% in 2019 and 72.1% in 2017. The Scottish government’s target is for “70% of women requiring abortions to have the procedure while less than nine weeks pregnant.”
Despite the longstanding legality of abortions in the country, and the seemingly positive numbers in terms of access; “70% of women in Scotland [today] live in a health board area with recent protests around clinics.” According to Green Party Spokesperson Mackay, these numbers show that the current approach – in which local authorities are left to decide whether or not they wish to implement a buffer zone – is not working. Mackay believes that leaving the law as is “could result in a post-code lottery, whereby some women are able to access abortions without fear of harassment, but others are not.” For these reasons, Mackay believes that “a national approach is required.”
While Mackay’s proposal did receive support from numerous other representatives, it was quickly rejected by Scottish Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, Maree Todd, who argued that the freedom of speech of the anti-abortion protesters must be taken into account. Todd refused to legislate on the matter and stated that the Scottish government was “unlikely” to support a national ban.
Nevertheless, Todd agreed to “look at Mackay’s bill when it arrived.”