The UK Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday the Abortion (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill was within the legislative competence of Stormont, concluding the bill does not “disproportionately interfere” with protesters’ rights. The bill provides for measures to restrict anti-abortion campaigners from protesting outside hospitals or clinics where abortions take place.
The Court’s judgment found that the Northern Ireland legislation did not impact on the right to free expression as laid down in the European Convention on Human Rights.
The passage of the bill will make it easier for similar restrictions in Scotland. Gillian Mackay, a Scottish Green MSP, proposed the Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill earlier this year to prevent protest outside abortion clinics in Scotland. She welcomed the bill on Wednesday, saying it was a “historic day”.
While the Scottish Government has backed the principles of the legislation, there were concerns about its legalities and how it would impact on free speech.
After the judgment was handed down, Ms Mackay said: “This is a very welcome decision, and a truly historic day for reproductive rights. It will provide vital and much-needed protections.
“Abortion rights are healthcare, and this sets a crucial precedent for the introduction of my Bill to introduce buffer zones in Scotland.
“The 12,000 responses that I received for my consultation show the strength of feeling. All over the world, anti-choice activists are trying to crack down on abortion rights.
“We can’t stand still, and must always be looking to entrench and expand those rights.
“Nobody should be obstructed or harassed when accessing healthcare yet, all across Scotland, people are being forced to endure a gauntlet of graphic images and abuse when accessing abortion services.
“This is totally wrong and I look forward to the day when my Bill will end such shameful scenes for good.” -PA