THE Scottish Government is spending £10,000 on mediation services between anti-abortion protestors and those “those who are affected by them”. 

A contract award notice published online showed that the government had paid for the services of a civic mediation company – the Centre for Good Relations – “to support dialogue between parties who hold vigils and protests outside of abortion clinics, and those who are affected by them”.

It comes just a few days before the First Minister is due to convene a second summit on abortion rights in Scotland to further discuss the implementation of protest buffer zones around health clinics and hospitals that provide the service.

Supporters of buffer zones have said the news is “hugely disappointing”.

Speaking to The National Alice Murray, the co-founder of campaign group Back Off Scotland, said: “It feels really ill-informed. The Scottish government already know the impact anti-choice harassment has on service users.

"We’ve given them a lot testimony, so it’s really frustrating that they’re not looking at that.

“I’d be really surprised if any service users and anyone whose experienced harassment would want to engage in any attempts at mediation. I’ve experienced anti-choice harassment myself and I would not be up for that."

She added that this option was not discussed at the first abortion summit in June.

“I’ve no idea what the government are thinking,” said Murray. “I’d be really interested to see what research or outcome they are getting this from because it’s completely contradictory to the stuff they said at the abortion summit.

“And it’s also really disappointing that this wasn’t something that was discussed at the abortion summit.

“I’m sure that if this was floated as an idea BPAS (British Pregnancy Advisory Service), Abortion Rights UK and Back Off Scotland would have had a lot to say about it.”

It is reported that SNP MSP John Mason – who has himself attended a protest outside of an abortion clinic – is feeling “very positive” about the mediation announcement.

READ MORE: NHS Grampian's rejection of automatic buffer zones is 'disgrace' say Back Off Scotland

The idea of mediation was first floated by the ministerial working group on abortion buffer zones in February.

However, members of the group admitted that it could be “difficult for common ground to be found”.

A spokesperson for the Scottish Government said:

“All women in Scotland should be able to access timely abortion care without judgment or intimidation.

"Last year, a working group was formed to explore possible ways to solve the problem of women being harassed outside abortion clinics as quickly as possible. A number of pieces of work have been commissioned by the working group to explore views in this area, including this work and research to develop a detailed picture of women’s experiences as a result of the protests.

“The Centre for Good Relations has met separately with various parties, including Back Off Scotland as patient representatives, to hear their views. There are no proposals whatsoever to hold meetings between patients and protestors as part of this process. 

"The initial scoping phase is complete and we are currently discussing with the working group and the Centre for Good Relations whether this work should continue - not least as representatives of some protesters appear determined to carry on with their activities without regard for their impact.

“This only one of a number of actions being taken and the Scottish Government remains committed to national legislation, which is being discussed with Gillian Mackay MSP in relation to her proposed Bill for safe access zones.”

Following the first abortion summit First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said that she hoped Glasgow and Edinburgh could trial buffer zones by using byelaws as a short-term measure to prevent harassment of service users. As yet, this has yet to happen.

Last week NHS Grampian said it would not want automatic provision of buffer zones around all health clinics due to concerns it would "just draw attention to them".