WOULD-BE first minister Humza Yousaf has pledged to “work ­tirelessly” to improve the rights of women and girls if he is elected to succeed Nicola Sturgeon.

The current Scottish Health ­Secretary promised action to improve abortion care in Scotland.

With some women having to travel to England for terminations later in pregnancy, Yousaf said he would work to make abortion available up to 24 weeks, and would also consider decriminalising the procedure in this current parliamentary term.

He also vowed to “unequivocally” back legislation due to come before Holyrood to set up buffer zones around abortion centres, and said he would take forward existing ­Scottish Government proposals to make ­misogyny an offence.

Outlining the policies in a ­women’s manifesto, Yousaf promised to ­fast-track free early learning and childcare for youngsters aged one and two – helping more women get back to work.

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He added he would follow ­Sturgeon’s practice of having half of all cabinet posts filled by women if he becomes first minister, and would seek to ensure the rights of women and girls are at the heart of work the Scottish Government does in the fields of international development and climate justice.

Yousaf – who is standing against two female candidates to be the next leader of the SNP – said there had been “great strides” taken in ­promoting women’s rights ­“particularly over the last eight years” under Sturgeon, who was Scotland’s first female first minister.

He said: “From the world’s first ­gender-balanced cabinet to free ­period products, the world’s first women’s health plan and ­taking a ­feminist ­approach to foreign ­policy, the SNP has taken bold and ­progressive action.

“But none of us can take our rights for granted – we have to defend them, we have to fight for them and, ­crucially, we have to vote for them.

“We know that socially ­conservative political figures and movements are itching to attack women’s rights – and it’s up to us to stop them.

“In the United States, the Supreme Court’s judgment on Roe v Wade has opened the door to the right-wing ­removing women’s right to choose, and women in Poland are having to fight for their basic right to bodily autonomy.

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“These examples show that we can never take our eye off the ball. Any let-up in relentlessly and ­passionately defending and expanding women’s rights gives the opportunity for ­regressive actors to slip in the backdoor and begin dismantling them.”

He added: “That’s why I don’t just want to protect the rights women have fought so hard to secure – I want to advance them even further. As first minister, I’ll improve access to abortion care and will ­unequivocally support buffer zones to finally end ­intimidation of women who are ­simply seeking healthcare.

“I’ll bring forward the ­Criminal ­Justice Reform Bill which will ­improve support for women who have experienced sexual offences.

“And I’ll look to support more women in unlocking their ­economic potential – taking action to ­support women’s entrepreneurship and ­fast-tracking the delivery of free ­childcare for one and two-year-olds to help parents, particularly women, back into work.

“I want women across Scotland to know that if I am elected first ­minister, I will not allow one step back on your rights. I’ll fight with you against any attempts to ­undermine your right to choose – and will work tirelessly to ensure women and girls in Scotland live in a truly equal society.”

His comments were welcomed by Scotland’s Social Justice ­Secretary Shona Robison, who described Yousaf as being a “leader who places equality right at the heart of his work in government”.

She added: “Women need assurances that there will be no rowing back in support for women’s rights or in women’s representation at the highest levels of Scottish politics.”