The Church in Society Committee of the Scottish Episcopal Church has submitted a response to the Scottish Parliament’s consultation on the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill. Introduced by Gillian Mackay MSP, the Bill aims to establish safe access zones around abortion service providers in Scotland.
The Church in Society Committee, elected by the General Synod, is mandated to advocate for positive and constructive change on issues where there is currently inherent injustice. The Committee addresses major issues facing Scottish society and encourages positive change in government policy. This often takes place through responding to government or parliamentary consultations such as this one.
The proposed legislation is intended to create a buffer zone around protected premises to safeguard both service users and staff, deterring individuals or groups who might seek to obstruct access to abortion services or cause distress to those seeking them.
Concerns have been raised about potential conflicts with the European Convention on Human Rights Article 9, which guarantees the freedom of religion. The view of the Committee in the consultation response is that: “The right to manifest religion in private and public is an important freedom. This right ought to be upheld, but not if actions have the intention or effect of causing others to feel harassed or intimidated while accessing or providing a legal and legitimate healthcare service.
“We understand that religious activity outside abortion centres, including prayer, preaching, silent vigils, holding banners and placards and handing out leaflets, can cause those accessing these legal and legitimate services (which they have a right to access) to feel harassed, intimidated and distressed. We therefore do not feel that the Bill inhibits freedom of religion in a way that is unreasonable or unlawful.”