A CALL to implement buffer zones around abortion and other health care clinics, aimed at stopping anti-abortion campaigners from blocking people’s access to medical care, will take a step forward when it is debated by Glasgow City Council for the first time today.

The debate will centre around a motion which “notes with concern the recent escalation in demonstrations at NHS facilities, especially activity targeted at women and staff attending sexual and reproductive health services and NHS hospitals”.

High profile action such as the 40 Days for Life protests have taken place outside Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth hospital in recent years, with many reporting that they found the need to pass large groups of protesters – who often hold up graphic signs – intimidating and deeply distressing. Pro-life groups have claimed they are offering “support” to women who may want to consider an alternative to abortion.

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In January Ealing Council agreed to undertake a public consultation on a possible Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) around the Marie Stopes clinic in west London, which could make it the first council to create a cordon. The Glasgow motion will ask that the city council’s Joint Integration Board now take forward the proposal and consult with the NHS, the public and other stakeholders.

Councillor Elaine McSporran, who is proposing the motion, said the council had a duty not only to protect women attending abortion clinics, often at a vulnerable time in their lives, but also others access medical facilities with a shared entrance, as well as NHS staff going to work.

“I feel strongly about the right to freedom of speech and protests but it should be done in a respectful courteous manner and not outside clinics or healthcare facilities,” she added. “People have voiced concerns that these protests are having a hugely detrimental impact on patients accessing health services, the staff providing their care, and local residents.”

She said she had heard from many who felt intimidated including people with mental health issues, new mothers and the family of cancer patients, and had found the support so far “overwhelming”.

The proposals were heralded as “hugely significant” by Rachael Clarke, advocacy manager at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, who claimed traumatised women – who sometimes aborted through circumstance rather than choice – had been told they were “murderers”.

Emma Ritch, director of feminist organisation Engender, agreed that introducing buffer zones would be an important practical and symbolic step. “Women accessing safe and legal abortion healthcare in Scotland should not have to run a gauntlet of harassment, and it is right that councils take action to support their safety and privacy,” she added.

However, John Deighan, Scottish chief executive of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children, said it would be difficult to introduce and that it struck “against the principles we hold dear in our democracy”.

“We allow all sorts of other protests such as those against Trident, or organised by trade unions,” he added.

“This is a response to 40 days of Life. But what a lot of people would says is that they are there providing a level of support to women who have not got that elsewhere. Many appreciate that and it they are able to see that there is an alternative. For all these reasons the council should not try to implement this.”