Edinburgh Council to support moves to have abortion clinic buffer zones

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image captionAnti-abortion activists have sometimes held vigils

Edinburgh councillors are to support moves to have "buffer zones" around abortion clinics to stop women being approached by anti-abortion activists.

The local authority agreed to work with other councils and the Scottish government in a bid to implement 150m (492ft) no-protest zones.

Anti-abortion campaigners say their aim is to support women to make a different choice.

Many women, however, have said they felt uneasy about their presence.

A 4,800-signature petition organised by Back off Scotland, , a campaign group started by Edinburgh University students, was supported by the council's policy committee.

The council cannot introduce the necessary legislation itself, and will now engage with the Scottish government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (Cosla) to help support that aim.

Back Off Scotland said the presence of anti-abortion activists at clinics was a threat to both privacy and a woman's right to access legal medical services.

image captionAlice said her experience of facing demonstrators led to her supporting the buffer zone campaign

Alice, who had an abortion in Edinburgh two years ago, told BBC Scotland's The Nine her experience of facing demonstrators led to her getting behind the buffer zone campaign.

She said: "One of the positive parts of my experience was that when I went in, the health care workers had a lot of time to talk me through my decision, making sure it was definitely what I wanted to do.

"It's not just a case of you go in and within five minutes it's done. The staff are really good at all the care.

"So I think it's offensive to them to assume that conversation doesn't happen, when it most definitely does."

image captionMargaret Akers, from Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland, said the presence of activists outside clinics was legitimate

Margaret Akers, from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children Scotland, said activists were seeking to support women make a different choice.

She said: "That is the last opportunity for people, who feel pressured or coerced, or feel they have no option to be presented with an alternative.

"We are making sure people receive counselling, material support and making sure this narrative of choice is a real one.

"We find in our work that so many women report feeling that they have no choice, so what can we do to open that up and provide real options."

Feeling 'demonised'

Lily, was met by an anti-abortion group while attending the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow.

She told BBC Scotland: "To feel like your privacy has been invaded so much is terrifying when you are in that vulnerable position, even if you are sure of yourself.

"They are making a decision about their body autonomy and are being demonised for it.

"They are having their privacy invaded."

Adam McVey, City of Edinburgh Council leader, said: "There are certain principles I would certainly hope we would all be in agreement with - certainly the right to access healthcare facilities unimpeded when needed is one of the absolute cornerstones of our society, as is free speech.

"But free speech doesn't give us the right to run into a crowded building and shout 'fire' at the top of our lungs - there has to be sensible parameters around how we engage in some of these questions as a society, that are very emotive for many people."

Back Off Scotland co-founder Lucy Grieve said welcomed the council's position as a "positive move".

Reporting by local democracy reporter Joseph Anderson.

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