SCOTTISH Green MSP Gillian Mackay has said she will oppose all amendments that could weaken her Member’s Bill for Safe Access Zones.

The bill, which passed its stage one vote by an overwhelming majority, will create 200-metre safe access zones, or “buffer zones”, to stop anti-choice campaign groups from protesting outside abortion service providers.

Mackay was speaking ahead of stage two scrutiny of the bill on Tuesday, which will see the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee considering and voting on amendments from across the Holyrood chamber.

READ MORE: Buffer zones bill could be 'unworkable' if silent prayer not banned, charity warns

The Humanist Society Scotland urged MSPs on the committee to reject proposed amendments 22-25 from Scottish Conservative Lothians MSP Jeremy Balfour, which the group says would create huge loopholes, allowing harassment of abortion service users and healthcare staff to continue

Mackay described Balfour’s proposals as “wrecking amendments” that could “undermine or weaken protections for service users and staff”.

According to the Humanist Society:

  • Amendment 22 would create an exception for anti-abortion activists providing “chaplaincy services at protected premises”. The group said: “Given the track record of misinformation and manipulative tactics from anti-abortion activists, Humanist Society Scotland strongly opposes any move that could formalise their role inside or outside abortion facilities.”
  • Amendment 23 would allow anti-abortion protests to take place when a clinic is closed – meaning staff who arrive early or leave late, and patients with appointments at the start or end of the day, could face protests.
  • Amendment 24 would explicitly exempt silent prayer from the bill. The bill does not outlaw any specific acts within safe-access zones but focuses on someone’s motivation to impede, alarm, or distress patients and staff.
  • Amendment 25 would introduce a “defence of reasonableness”, asking courts to consider whether an individual was exercising their human right to freedom of expression. However, the UK Supreme Court has already ruled that safe access zones are a proportional and legitimate restriction on freedom of expression.

Mackay said: “We are at a crucial point in terms of introducing my bill and ending the terrible harassment we have seen outside hospitals and abortion service providers all across our country.

“It is really important that we make this the most robust bill it can be, and I am happy to meet with any MSP and to support any constructive amendments that will strengthen it and ensure greater protections.

“I will oppose any proposals that will create loopholes and exemptions or allow the protests to continue. That’s not what I want from the bill, and ... it would be a betrayal of everyone who has had to pass a gauntlet of protesters to access healthcare.

“I am grateful to everyone who has done so much to get us this far, especially to people who shared very difficult stories with me in the hope that nobody else will have to endure what they did.

“Fundamentally my bill is about ensuring everyone can have safe access to the healthcare they are entitled to. There’s been a really strong sense of collaboration and cross-party support at every stage of this process, and I hope this continues.”

Fraser Sutherland, chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland, said: “We urge committee members to reject all of these amendments. The bill must fully protect patients exercising their right to an abortion and the staff providing this vitally important healthcare. Robust and workable safe access zones cannot come soon enough.”