City of Edinburgh to support ‘Back Off Scotland’ in push for abortion clinic buffer zones

The city council has said they will support the student-led group with their national petition

Edinburgh City Council has said they will support the student-led group ‘Back Off Scotland’ in their push to get 150m buffer zones implemented around abortion clinics in Scotland.

Back Off Scotland, which started off as Back Off Chalmers, was started by University of Edinburgh students in response to anti-choice protestors outside Chalmers Centre, a sexual health clinic in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh city councillors have said they can’t introduce this kind of legislation locally but will engage with the Scottish Government and the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (COSLA) to help support the movement.

Back Off Scotland has recently launched a national petition to get 150m buffer zones implemented around abortion clinics across Scotland to protect people using the clinics from the harassment of protestors.

Council leader Adam McVey said in a debate: “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.

“That principle of people being able to access healthcare if needed, when they needed, and unimpeded, is sacrosanct.”

The leader of Conservative councillors Iain Whyte responded: “This issue is not within the competence of the council.

“In speaking to your proposal – it was mentioned that this is a national issue – and that is the best way of dealing with this.

“The petition calls for new legislation – that’s not a matter within the competence of the council, that’s for the Scottish Parliament to determine.”

Therefore, while it will not implement the buffer zones themselves, the Edinburgh City Council will support the movement on a national scale.

Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland and a third year Social Anthropology and Social Policy student, told The Edinburgh Tab: “Edinburgh council’s support of our petition is a huge step in the right direction towards protecting patients seeking healthcare across Scotland from intimidation and harassment.

“We’re grateful that this will now be brought to the attention of the Scottish Government – this is a bipartisan issue that requires immediate action nationally.”

Emma Ahlert, co-founder and recently graduated Master’s of Sociology and Global Change student, told The Edinburgh Tab: “The council’s decision to support our efforts served as both a relief, and a source of motivation moving forward.

“The city council debate was also a reminder that this issue is not unanimously agreed upon. So, we must ramp up our efforts from here!”

The Back Off Scotland petition can be found here.

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