The National:

THE MSP leading on buffer zone legislation received personally abusive comments throughout the consultation on her draft private member’s bill, The National can reveal.

Gillian Mackay, whose Abortion Services Safe Access Zones Bill will make it illegal for anti-choice protests to take place right outside a clinic if it is passed, has said she was called “every name under the sun” in the 12,000-plus consultation responses she received last year.

The Green MSP - who spoke to the Holyrood Weekly podcast for The National's Give Us Space campaign - revealed she has been branded “evil” with some claiming she “needed her head checked” for working to protect women seeking a termination from harassment and intimidation.

However, she insisted no amount of abuse was going to "dull" her enthusiasm for getting the legislation over the line.

The survey on the bill was completed last August and a summary of the responses is expected to be published imminently before a final proposal is lodged in the Scottish Parliament.

READ MORE: Give Us Space: The National's campaign backing buffer zones

Asked about the variety of responses she’d received to her proposed bill, Mackay said: “I think a lot of them have been split along polar opposites that we would not be surprised by between massive support and real opposition with some nuance in the middle around that balance of rights – rights to healthcare and rights to protest.

“It’s been an interesting array and I’ve been called everything under the sun in some of these responses. I am evil, vindictive, I need my head checked according to some of them.

“It’s gotten quite personal and that’s been really interesting because I think the general discourse so far – unfortunately a lot of it [abuse] has been levelled at the former first minister rather than myself. A lot of the things from 40 Days for Life [a leading anti-abortion group] had been directed at Nicola Sturgeon.

“So without the former first minister there, we’ll wait and see who gets it next, but there’s an element to which you throw that off and keep going because people facing this in the street is far worse than anything anybody could say to me in a consultation response, so it’s never going to dull my enthusiasm to get this over the line for those who are facing this on a weekly basis.”

Following an anti-abortion protest that attracted more than 100 people at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) in Glasgow earlier this month, campaigners have vented their frustration Mackay’s bill has still not begun to make its way through parliament, with her having launched the consultation on the draft proposal almost a year ago.

Campaigners from Back Off Scotland have suggested the bill could have moved faster if the Scottish Government had led on it, while insisting Mackay’s small team had worked “really hard”.

Mackay said her team were working as fast as possible and stressed the government would not be able to progress it any quicker than her at this stage.

Asked if the government taking the bill on would’ve made things move quicker, Mackay said: “Not necessarily.

“There is a period where the final proposal is in place and MSPs from across the chamber can sign it and it also gives the government an opportunity to indicate as to whether they are going to legislate in this area.

“Obviously the government have given a lot of support to this and committed to working with me, which makes it unlikely they’re going to take it over because once it is in the parliamentary sort of timetable, in terms of getting through committee stages and things, they can’t progress it any quicker than I can.

“That is down to the amount of time committees have and the amount of hours we have in the chamber to slot things in which is why we’re having those conversations already about what we can do where.

“I absolutely understand the frustration and hope that everyone does take some comfort that we are challenging ourselves to go quicker every day.

“I don’t really care what hours I have to pull to get this done.”

The National:

Buffer zone legislation has passed in both Northern Ireland – following a landmark Supreme Court judgement just before Christmas – and England and Wales via an amendment to the Public Order Bill which has added to people’s frustrations that Scotland is lagging behind the rest of the UK in addressing the matter.

But Mackay has previously told The National that being behind other countries is not necessarily a bad thing, given Scotland can learn from them and make sure legislation can withstand a legal challenge which the Central Scotland MSP believes is “inevitable”.

When asked what effect she hoped her bill, if passed, would have in the years to come, Mackay said she eventually wants to get to a point where people won’t even need to remember she passed this bill because harassment and intimidation outside medical settings just won’t be accepted under any circumstances.

She said: “I want at some point for people to forget this was ever an issue, that nobody even realises there are safe access zones in place and that level of harassment around our healthcare settings is no longer a thing.

“I hope they forget I ever passed this bill. I’d like it to be consigned to the history books and no one ever have to remember that it even needed to be a thing because it’s been traumatic for a large number of people and we’re trying to prevent it from being traumatic for any more.”