27 Sept 2022

Greens MSP: Branding anti-abortion protests as ‘vigils’ is wholly inappropriate

Greens MSP: Branding anti-abortion protests as ‘vigils’ is wholly inappropriate

The MSP leading proposals for buffer zones outside Scotland’s abortion clinics has said it is “wholly inappropriate” to suggest anti-abortion protesters are engaging in “vigils”.

Gillian Mackay, from the Scottish Greens, has proposed the introduction of 150-metre buffer zones around healthcare facilities which provide abortion services.

SNP MSP John Mason, who has previously admitted taking part in what he described as “vigils” outside hospitals carrying out abortions, has been vocal in his opposition.

Mr Mason, who claimed abortions are “seldom essential or vital” and suggested that women are poorly informed when accessing services, received a written warning from the SNP last week over his comments.

Ms Mackay said internal action against “misinformation that has been repeated” was “welcome”.

“Nobody should be being harassed or intimidated outside healthcare settings,” the Central Scotland MSP told the PA news agency.

“I think Mr Mason himself deep down will probably know that there are more appropriate places for those protests to take place.”

On the use of the word “vigil” to describe the gatherings, Ms Mackay said: “To some these will be people having a vigil – but to those who are accessing these services, it’s people protesting (over) their healthcare.

“It’s people actively saying, ‘this should not be allowed, your healthcare should not be allowed’, and I don’t think we tolerate this in any other sphere of healthcare.

“So, I think it’s wholly inappropriate. It is a protest.”

Mr Mason said on Friday that despite being disciplined by his party, he still feels there is a need to speak out on his position.

In an interview with the Glasgow Times, the Shettleston MSP said there was a lack of clarity on why he was facing disciplinary action.

“Was it speaking out on abortion or what was it? I sought clarification in my letter – I don’t have it,” Mr Mason told the paper.

Mr Mason said there are “two key points” to the debate: “One is abortion itself and the buffer zones, and one is generally within a political party, how much freedom is there for backbenchers or anyone to express their own views?

“The link is that abortion has traditionally been, for the SNP and I think most of the parties, a conscience issue.”

He suggested a responsibility to Parliament and constituents means the party line should not simply be followed without question.

“Some backbenchers will always say yes to the Government no matter what,” he said, “just because that’s the way they are made or they want to be a minister at some point.

“But there are others, and there are a number within the SNP and all the parties, who also see they have responsibility for the good of the Parliament and their constituents to be at least questioning things.”

He added that he offers representation for those with pro-life views in the Scottish Parliament – and that failing to have that option “actually undermines Parliament and undermines the SNP”.

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