THIS morning I joined the First Minister, representatives from the NHS, Police Scotland and campaigners from Back Off Scotland and other pro-choice organisations for a summit on how we can stop anti-choice protests outside healthcare services and ensure that abortion services are safe, secure and accessible for all.

The event was planned well in advance, but was taking place in the shadow of last week's shocking Supreme Court decision to overturn Roe vs Wade in the US. It was a terrible step back for women's rights and healthcare in the US, and followed decades of incremental attacks against bodily autonomy and the right to choose.

Abortion rights are human rights, and there are many who will suffer as a result of this change. It will mean more people putting themselves in danger and risking their health and wellbeing rather than being able to safely access services. It will also embolden anti-choice activists in other countries too.

The National:

Gillian Mackay at a protest

We must stand in solidarity with everyone who is having their reproductive rights removed in the US. At the same time we must also ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect and enhance the rights of people using reproductive healthcare around the world.

Here in Scotland, I have recently launched a consultation ahead of a Members Bill to establish 150-metre buffer zones outside sexual health services and medical facilities that provide abortion services. This follows shocking scenes of protesters abusing and harassing patients and staff outside healthcare facilities. These "vigils" often include extremely graphic images and banners which are designed to intimidate.

The protests are a long-term problem, but they are becoming more frequent and more intense. At present, 70% of women of reproductive age in Scotland live in a health board area that has had hospitals or clinics targeted by anti-choice groups in the past five years.

This April, more than 100 anti-choice protesters lined the street outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow, with many brandishing abusive placards and causing upset and distress. The protests outside the Sandyford Clinic in Glasgow have seen protesters only a few feet away from the people they are shouting at. There can be absolutely no justification for this kind of intimidation.

Clinicians have told me about the severe impact that these protests have had on their patients. This includes people accessing abortions, but it also includes people accessing rape counselling, sexual health services and other healthcare services that share the same buildings and campuses. Their accounts are heartbreaking, and should not be taking place. 

READ MORE: US Roe vs Wade ruling should serve as a warning about Supreme Courts

Buffer zones have already been established in Canada, Australia and some parts of England. There is nothing new about them. They are a simple and effective step. Where they have been introduced, they have provided welcome protections and reassurances. There is also widespread support for them. Polling from the Scottish Humanist Association has found that 82% of people support the proposals.

It is shocking that such a bill is necessary in the first place. It is infuriating that so many people have had to endure such intimidation for so long. That is why it is vital that the change is driven by government rather than being left to local authorities. The latter approach would risk severe delays and could easily create a postcode lottery when it comes to rights. 

I know that the parliamentary process can seem frustratingly slow, but, if we want to stop the protests for good then it is right that there is time for thorough consultation and scrutiny before any proposal becomes law. In Northern Ireland, where similar legislation has been passed, its implementation has been obstructed and delayed by legal challenges. I don't want the same thing to happen here.

READ MORE: Battle for buffer zones outside Scottish clinics has historical echoes

The consultation on my Bill will run until the August 11. Please take the time to share your views and encourage others to do the same. With your help we can ensure that the legislation is as robust as possible.

These rights have been hard-fought and, as last Friday's terrible decision to rollback rights in the US shows, they must always be protected and enhanced. Whether it is abortion rights, healthcare rights or the rights of minority communities, our progress can often be more fragile than it appears. We can never take it for granted.

You can find out more about my buffer zone Bill and fill in the consultation at