The National:

DR Greg Irwin says without question, he believes in the right to fair protest.

But he’s been one of the biggest names over the past year pushing for buffer zones to prohibit anti-choice demonstrations outside abortion clinics.

That’s because he believes the mass protests that have been staged outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH) – where he works as a consultant paediatric radiologist – by Texas-based group called 40 Days for Life are not fair.

Rather than fighting for their rights, which is what a protest is usually for, Irwin insists the protesters are simply fighting to restrict other people’s rights.

For the past six years the group have been staging protests throughout Lent outside the maternity ward and he says the situation has driven him mad with the way in which protesters “bully, embarrass, intimidate and harass women” who will inevitably be emotional.

“It’s like beating your head on a brick wall because they’re there and you hate it, and then they go away and it stops and you don’t miss it, and then it slips your mind again until they’re there again,” said Irwin, who spoke to The National as part of its Give Us Space campaign.

READ MORE: 'Evil and vindictive': MSP reveals abuse from anti-abortion activists

“It’s become a feature rather than a one off now and it’s incredibly frustrating.

“I’m left wing, I strongly support the right to protest, but this is not a fair protest.

“This is not fighting for their rights, they’re fighting to restrict other people’s rights and they’re doing it on a day when they’re [women] going to be vulnerable or upset.

“So not only is it not a valid protest, it’s targeted against people who are least able to resist it.”

Years of standing with women

When he first came across them at the QEUH back in 2016, Irwin was at a loss as to what to do and felt all he could do was stage a counter protest. He stood next to them with a sign saying “your body, your choice” and that encouraged women in the hospital to share their abortion stories with him.

Over time he has heard just how deeply women across the hospital have been impacted by the behaviour of protesters.

He heard from a nurse who decided not to go through with a pregnancy because of a severe foetal abnormality. She saw the protesters 15 years on from making that call and they made her cry at work.

Another nurse who had lost a baby after trying really hard to get pregnant saw the protesters 10 years on from her miscarriage and she was also left in tears.

The National: Greg Irwin has made an effort to point out the behaviour of anti-abortion protestersGreg Irwin has made an effort to point out the behaviour of anti-abortion protesters (Image: NQ)

One woman he spoke to recently during a day when more than 100 protesters turned up at the QEUH maternity ward had been taking her child to A&E but had had a miscarriage the week before, so she had to walk past abortion protesters she didn’t know would be there in an already distressing situation.

Irwin said: “It has an awful deadening effect on the hospital. It’s not about me at all, but it drives me mad.

“They [the protesters] are thoroughly disingenuous, they’re not there for the reasons they say [to help and support women].

“What they are there for is to harass, intimidate, bully and embarrass women.

“Abortion is a positive experience for most women who go through it but there’s no denying on the day itself people are going to be emotional and they don’t need protesters outside judging them and impinging on their anonymity.

“It doesn’t sound like much and they [the protesters] play on the fact it isn’t intimidating, they say it’s a helpful thing, but they are all facing the maternity ward windows.

“There will be people there having miscarriages. So for the women in that situation in the hospital looking out the window at the master ranks of disapproval outside, that cannot be anything other than intimidating.”

How Irwin got involved

When 40 Days of Life returned to the hospital after an enforced two-year hiatus due to the pandemic, Irwin decided to get properly involved with the campaign to introduce safe access zones which would stop these protests happening outside the doors of a clinic.

The National:

He led on sending an open letter - signed by around 75 consultants at the hospital – to the then women’s health minister Maree Todd asking her to “show courage” over buffer zones while making sure he kept these demonstrations in the public eye on social media so everyone knew how regularly they were turning up in mass numbers.

“I think the thing that spurred me on was that they hadn’t been there [during Covid]. You don’t notice their absence, it’s only when they came back. So when they came back that motivated me to try and do something,” Irwin said.

“I’d like women to know the people outside [the protesters] are outliers and an extreme fringe trying to take us back in time.

“Frustratingly, they’re having success in America. My entire life I’ve observed progress in liberty and you take it for granted and then what happened in America was just so shocking.

“The guys over here are the thin end of that wedge.”

Irwin is referring to the overturning of the Roe v Wade ruling in the US last year by the Supreme Court which ended the constitutional right to abortion.

READ MORE: 'I've never seen anyone change their mind on abortion due to protesters'

The move has emboldened many anti-abortion campaigners and Irwin has stressed it is now more important than ever we get buffer zones in place in Scotland and ensure those zones fit the specific geography of a site.

He added: “In a perfect world I think protesting outside abortion care facilities should be deemed as misogyny and a hate crime and I think they should be prosecuted on those grounds but that’s not where we are.

“Taking a more pragmatic view, I’d take the permitter of the campus as being the start point for the 150m zone rather than the door of the maternity unit.”

While Green MSP Gillian Mackay is in the process of tabling the final proposals for her Abortion Services Safe Access Zones Bill, Irwin said he just wants women to know the protesters outside do not reflect attitudes inside the hospital in any way and women should know they will be supported every step of the way.

He said: “If I was allowed to say anything to women coming to hospital it would be to tell them when they come in they will be treated with respect and compassion and get the very best health care.

“They will be supported in any decision they make.”