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Students launch legal campaign to implement buffer zones around abortion clinics

‘Back Off Scotland’ campaign calling for 150-metre buffer zones has gathered over 2,000 signatures

By: Samira Rauner

The campaign Back Off Scotland, founded by a group of University of Edinburgh students, has launched a national petition in an effort to put pressure on the Scottish government to implement 150-meter buffer zones around sexual health clinics.

The national petition went live on February 15, 2021, and has so far amassed over 2,300 signatures.

Co-founder of Back Off Scotland, Lucy Grieve, said that while “the end goal is to legislate for 150-meter buffer zones around clinics and hospitals that provide abortion services in Scotland”, the goal is not “to de-platform any organisation”.

According to Back Off Scotland, common “intimidation” tactics by protestors include “medically inaccurate leaflets, blocking entry to clinics, [or] graphic imagery being shown.”

Back Off Scotland stresses that, while they campaign for buffer zones, they believe “in freedom of speech and freedom to protest, but not in a context that creates barriers to accessing healthcare.”

In response to the petition, the anti-abortion Aberdeen Life Ethics Society (ALES) released a statement saying buffer zones were “anti-choice” and about “protecting profits”.

An ALES spokesperson said: “With the facts about abortion being shrouded in secrecy and lies, activists outside abortion clinics provide women with an opportunity to see the dark reality of abortion before they make an irreversible and life-changing decision.

“Buffer Zones are anti-choice as they deprive women of the ability to make a truly informed decision with all the facts available. The idea that women entering the clinic always feel confident that they are making the right choice is a myth.

“In fact, many women have changed their mind just before entering the clinic after hearing the truth about abortion. Their testimonies are available online for people to read. Simply put, buffer zones are not about protecting women as the abortion lobby will have you believe, they are about protecting profits.”

Last year, ALES was investigated by the Students’ Association (AUSA) for a possible breach of its safe space policy following an event it held about abortion. However, no action was taken by AUSA after it received assurances from ALES about the conduct of its future events.

In 2019, ALES successfully sued the Students’ Association for “unlawful discrimination” over its pro-choice policy.

In 2019, ALES successfully sued the Students’ Association for “unlawful discrimination” over its pro-choice policy which did not allow explicitly anti-abortion societies to affiliate. The dispute ended with AUSA’s policy being overturned and ALES receiving an undisclosed financial pay-out from the Students’ Association.

Indicating that opponents of the buffer-zone legislation are in the minority, a recent poll, carried out by Survation on behalf of Humanist Society Scotland, found that 82% of respondents thought that a minimum distance for protestors outside healthcare facilities should be implemented.

Louise Henrard, AUSA’s Vice President for Welfare stressed that “the AUSA Sabbatical team agrees with the intent of the petition. Protecting staff working in the clinics and patients who are seeking medical care is extremely important. They should not be subject to harassment, intimidation or abuse.”

Similarly, the Aberdeen Feminist Society has also registered their support for Back Off Scotland, stating that “access to abortion is a basic human right and everyone should be able to exercise that right without being attacked or harassed.” They argue that “buffer zones will help people accessing abortion services and the staff that work at these clinics to stay safe and exercise their rights unimpeded.”


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