NEW polling reveals widespread opposition in Scotland to protests outside healthcare facilities providing abortions.

A survey carried out by Survation on behalf of Humanist Society Scotland found that 82% of respondents agreed that protesters should be kept a minimum distance away from those attending healthcare facilities and only 4% disagreed that women should be protected from harassment.

The society is now pushing the Government to take immediate action to protect vulnerable clinic users from aggressive protesters. It says protests outside NHS facilities have existed in Scotland for decades but have become more widespread since 2014 when American-founded anti-abortion groups moved in.

Professor Maggie Kinloch from the society said: “This research unequivocally shows public backing for restricting protests that deliberately target individual healthcare service users. These protests are often orchestrated by ultra-conservative religious groups who believe a woman’s role in life is simply to be a mother.

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“We ask the Scottish Government to make clear what it supports – the rights of women to privacy and access to the services they deem appropriate to their healthcare, or the rights of pro-testers to harass them in the street.”

Lucy Grieve, co-founder of the national campaign group Back Off Scotland, of which Humanist Society Scotland is a part, said: “The findings of this poll show strong levels of support for buffer zones – the ultimate goal of our campaign. It’s now time for the Scottish Government to act, and legitimise buffer zones around all clinics providing abortion services.”

The campaign says protests involve groups of varying sizes seeking to dissuade individual pregnant women and people from accessing abortion services – using signs, loudspeakers, medically inaccurate leaflets, and by waylaying and following patients and passers-by. It says these actions are not a protest in the usual sense.

Protesters are not seeking to change the law or influence the opinions of decision-makers – they pressure individual women seeking abortions into making different decisions about their healthcare and rely on being able to access people in a vulnerable position.

The campaign says both hospitals and clinics are targeted across Scotland and that many of the reports received are not from women accessing abortion care, but from those who are pregnant, who have experienced miscarriage, or who are attending the hospital with their children.

One woman who passed a centre in Edinburgh last year told the campaign: “While walking with my baby in the pram, a protester tried to hand me a leaflet with anti-choice messaging. I spoke to her about what she was doing … she looked into my pram and said ‘but there’s a reason you didn’t want to murder your own baby’. I walked away and she shouted after me, ‘You are a hypocrite. You knew she was a baby and you knew she was in your womb. Would you kill her too?’.”