Protestors holding ‘pray to end abortion’ signs were outside Chalmers this morning

Police were called to the sexual health clinic but were unable to act without buffer zone legislation

Anti-abortion protestors were seen outside Chalmers sexual health clinic this morning holding signs that said: “pray to end abortion”.

At around 10:45 this morning, Hannah (a pro-choice campaigner) saw three members of the 40 Days for Life campaign arrive directly opposite the main entrance to Chalmers.

Hannah tried to phone the police, after Chalmers’ employees said they were unable to intervene, but she was told the police could not do anything as there are no laws or by-laws stopping them.

Back Off Scotland, a group started by three students at the University of Edinburgh, are campaigning for 150m buffer zones around abortion clinics in Scotland. Lucy Grieve, one of their co-founders, told us she thought: “absolutely no one accessing healthcare should be subjected to this”.

The campaigners belong to the 40 Days for Life campaign – an anti-choice movement started in America that aims to “end abortion”.

Every year they hold daily “vigils” during Lent outside clinics providing healthcare services including abortion – but they have been unable to hold these during Lent for the past two years due to lockdowns so are instead conducting their “vigils” now.

Their presence made Hannah “anxious” and she claims they repeatedly tried to approach her despite telling them to keep their distance.

After this she tried to speak to staff inside the clinic but she was told there was nothing they could do.

She then phoned 101 to see if there was anything the police could do but was told that without specific laws or by-laws, the police could not intervene.

During this phone call, Hannah claims the anti-abortion protestors “laughed” at her because they knew the police could not act.

Back Off Scotland have been campaigning for 150m buffer zones around healthcare practices that offer abortions – including Chalmers.

In February, Edinburgh City Council voted in favour of such measures but claim they are unable to implement them without national legislation.

Meanwhile, Back Off Scotland recently met with Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd and were told the Scottish Government could not implement buffer zones due to a risk of legal challenges against the government from pro-life groups. The Scottish Government’s new Women’s Health Plan does also discuss the possibility of buffer zones – but only commits them to working with local authorities and NHS trusts.

Their co-founder, Lucy Grieve, told us that these protests today showed that the Scottish Government urgently needs to implement buffer zone legislation.

“Let’s be totally clear – absolutely no one accessing healthcare should be subjected to this. This is intimidating and it’s harassment.

“This is a particularly disappointing development because the Scottish Government have had prior warning that protestors would be returning to Chalmers Centre. Inaction and buck passing is not good enough.

“The Scottish Government need to take ownership of this issue and implement buffer zones nationally instead of pawning off responsibility to local councils.”

The Edinburgh Tab spoke to one of the protestors, with one woman telling us: “These accusations of harassment have been going on for years but we contact the police with FOIs every six months and they’re unfounded”.

Recommended related articles by this writer:

• I am fully done with the anti-abortion protestors outside Chalmers

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

‘We are anti-harassment’: We spoke to the Edinburgh students behind Back off Chalmers