The National:

“I think the closeness of the protesters to the patients made me most angry. There’s only one entrance into the building so there’s no way for people to access the service without having to walk directly in front of these men with their unpleasant banners.”

Dr Audrey Brown worked in abortion care for more than 30 years before retiring at the end of last year and experienced first-hand the upset and trauma caused by anti-abortion campaigners demonstrating outside Sandyford sexual health clinic in Glasgow.

Although the building has never been targeted by the Texas-based 40 Days for Life group often seen frequenting the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) site with mass "prayer vigils", staff and patients had to endure the persistent presence of two men using megaphones, body cameras and offensive signs outside the clinic for many months last year.

Staff did not know when they were going to show up making it difficult to manage and protect patients from intimidation.

Brown said they caused a huge amount of disruption, upsetting not only patients attending an abortion consultation but people seeking other sexual health services and staff.

She said: “The style of the protests at Sandyford was very offensive and noisy.

READ MORE: Campaigners call for more urgency on abortion clinic buffer zones bill

“It was incredibly disruptive and very upsetting for patients attending the abortion service but also for patients attending Sandyford for any other aspects of the service and it did feel quite intimidating for staff as well.

“The doors of the building are automatic so whenever anyone approaches the doors open and patients in the general waiting area could hear the protests.

“I think people felt upset by it. People who come to an abortion clinic have often not been to one before so they’re already feeling a bit anxious. Unfortunately, abortion is still stigmatised so if you’re them being confronted with people shouting very loudly outside the clinic that is upsetting and people feel judged.

“We’ve always encouraged people if they wish to bring a supporting person with them to do so and sometimes if the patient is very upset that supporting person can feel quite angry at what they’re friend or partner or relative has been exposed to.”

The National: Dr Audrey Brown worked at Sandyford as a reproductive health consultantDr Audrey Brown worked at Sandyford as a reproductive health consultant (Image: NQ)

Abortions are not physically carried out at Sandyford but patients seeking a termination in the Glasgow area go there for an initial consultation and, if they decide they want to self-manage it at home, medication would be given to them at the clinic rather than them going to a hospital – which they may need to do if they are further on in their pregnancy or have health issues.

Brown told The National some consultations had to be interrupted due to the noise protesters made outside which she said was even more frustrating given they so often had no impact on a patient’s decision to end their pregnancy.

Those who stage an anti-abortion demonstration often claim they are trying to offer help and support to women and encourage them to see the pregnancy through.

But Brown said she had never in three decades of working in abortion seen any patient change their mind because of strangers condemning their choice.

“I imagine one of their aims is to put people off coming to their appointment but I’m certainly not aware of anybody changing their decision based on what they witnessed outside the clinic,” said Brown.

“If they appeared then staff would contact people who are shortly due to come to the clinic to say there’s something going on outside and give them opportunity to change their appointment, but most people just say ‘I’ll ignore them’.

“People at the hospital, like 40 Days for Life, say they are there to provide support and help and counselling but I cannot imagine if anyone needs support they’re going to speak to a stranger on a pavement.”

Since the men who visited Sandyford took part in a BBC Disclosure programme last year they seem to have cleared off, but there is still nothing to stop them or others with anti-choice views swarming the site again.

Meanwhile, sites including the QEUH, Aberdeen Maternity Hospital and the Chalmers Centre in Edinburgh continue to be targeted.

Brown said she would be delighted to see buffer zone legislation in place as soon as possible to protect women from harassment.

But she did stress she’d like more clarification on what the 150m zones – where anti-abortion protests would be prohibited if legislation passes - will look like, particularly at hospital sites which spread much further than smaller sexual health clinics.

READ MORE: Trade unions to urge Labour to put devolving drug law in manifesto

She added she would like to see strong penalties given to those who flout the law once it is in place, given groups like 40 Days for Life have a lot of money behind them.

Brown said: “I’m very supportive of the buffer zone legislation. I think it’s very important that people are not harassed and intimidated either going for healthcare or going to their work.

“It’s very clear the NHS does not tolerate harassment of staff or patients on NHS premises, but it seems to me there isn’t anything to stop them being harassed just at the entrance, so I think we really need that buffer zone legislation to stop that.

“I do think we need to be very clear on what the 150m means because if it’s 150m from the door of a building, that might be ok somewhere like Sandyford, but if you had it 150m from the door of the gynaecology unit at one of the hospitals, it’s just going to move it a bit along the road. I think the whole hospital area would have to be protected.

“We also don’t know what would be the consequences if someone was to flout the legislation. I think there needs to be some reasonable sanction for having broken the law.

“One of my concerns is that a group like 40 Days for Life has got a fair bit of money behind it and if it was something like a minor financial penalty, for a group that’s got a lot of money behind it, that may not be a significant enough disincentive.”