EVENT: Free2Pray

A Green Party MSP, supported by the Scottish Government, is proposing a Bill to ban peaceful prayers and offers of help near abortion clinics in Scotland.

The Bill proposes a jail sentence of up to two years for anyone who even silently prays near an abortion clinic.

If the Government is allowed to decide when and where people can pray this is a serious threat to religious freedom. If the principle is established in this Bill, it could easily be applied to Corpus Christi processions or the annual St Margaret's Pilgrimage if politicians decide they don't agree with what is happening.

It is vital that as many Catholics, and all concerned for freedom of speech and assembly, make a response to this dangerous Bill.


Register for one of our two sessions to find out how to respond.

Event organised by the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office. Find out more about its work at https://archedinburgh.org/prolife/

Background on vigils

  • Vigils do not see themselves as ‘protests.’  Participants say they are there to pray and offer help.
  • There are multiple stories from women who have accepted help at vigils, or wish a vigil had been there to offer alternatives when they had an abortion.
  • Almost all vigil participants are Christians, often of retirement age.  This is not the demographic for anti-social behaviour.
  • 40 Days for Life is the largest vigil organiser in Scotland. 40 Days requires all participants to sign a ‘Statement of Peace’ and does not use graphic imagery.

The Bill would criminalise prayer:

The Bill would criminalise silent prayer.  If someone attended a vigil for a hour a week, for each of the six weeks of Lent , praying silently, speaking to no-one and without signage, they would commit the proposed offence of “persistently, continuously, or repeatedly occupying a safe access zone”

The proposed sentences are excessive; six months for a first offence and two years for a second.  This puts silent prayer on a level comparable to domestic assault, hate crimes, stalking etc which can also be tried summarily and then also on indictment.

Public Health Scotland report that the majority of women who have an abortion in Scotland do not attend a clinic or hospital.  They will never see a vigil.

Pre-legislation there has been no engagement with Vigil groups.  Abortion Minister, Maree Todd, ruled out bringing vigil groups into her Ministerial Working Group.

The Bill is unnecessary:

There is overwhelming evidence from Police Scotland and NHS Boards that vigils are peaceful:

FOI data shows that there are no recorded incidents of intimidation or harassment by pro-life groups at 13 Scottish locations in the 6 years between 1 January 2016 and 31 December 2021.  Compassion Scotland obtained this information:  https://twitter.com/CompassionScot

Except for Police Scotland, every public authority in Scottish Government’s Ministerial Working Group have said they have no records of any instances of vigils in 2021.  Police Scotland recorded only 1 instance which they describe as “peaceful”  (Appendix 1, below).

This credible Scottish data corresponds with a Home Office enquiry for England and Wales which considered over 2,000 pieces of evidence.  The Home Secretary told Parliament: “Having considered the evidence of the review, I have therefore reached the conclusion that introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response, considering the experiences of the majority of hospitals and clinics, and considering that the majority of activities are more passive in nature”

Allegations & Evidence:

It is vital not to accept allegations at face value but to apply challenge and scrutiny. Proponents of a ban rely on allegations which make good headlines but are often unsubstantiated, or incorrect


The proposed Bill has serious implications for peaceful freedom of expression and religion.

The real driver for abortion in Scotland is poverty. Public Health Scotland annually highlight that abortion rates for women in the most deprived areas are double those in wealthy parts.  In 2020, PHS noted (page 20) that for women deprived areas, abortion rates have increased by a quarter in 10 years.  In the least deprived areas the abortion rate has actually gone down by 1%.  The Mackay Bill does nothing to address this persistent and worsening inequality.

The small number of recent incidents at Glasgow’s Sandyford clinic do not negate the many years of reliable and credible evidence from the Police and NHS Boards that vigils are peaceful and cause no issues.  This is corroborated by Home Office finding for England and Wales, above.

Overall, there is extensive and overwhelming evidence that vigils are peaceful, prayerful and no problem exists which requires legislation at a national level.

Appendix 1


Bishops: 'To take life from the unborn cannot be right'   

The Bishops of Scotland have highlighted the sanctity of life and the rights of the unborn in a statement released today (27 June).

It comes following recent public debate on abortion following the overturning of Roe vs Wade in America, which caused the deaths of millions of unborn children.

They say: “Whether we believe in anything spiritual or not, the life that each one of us lives is the only one we have, and to take life from the unborn, no matter how insignificant in size, cannot be right. "

'Profoundly important'

"The rights of a woman and the compassion and support due to her, and the circumstances of her pregnancy, are naturally of great concern to us, but an unborn life, once taken, can never be restored.

"This is what makes abortion such a profoundly important matter for all human beings.

“No matter what position we take, this belief in the profound importance of the issue is shared by us all.

"It is incumbent on us therefore to accept that deeply held and divergent opinions are at stake and that the conflict which arises from this should be handled with respect and civility.

“Those who do not believe human life begins at the moment of conception, invite the question: ‘when does it begin?’. While those who believe that it does, ask the question: ‘what right have we to take a unique and unrepeatable human life?’

“If we are to be the caring and compassionate society we aspire to be, upholding the sanctity and dignity of all human life must be the foundational principal upon which that aspiration rests.”

Supporting women

Paul Atkin, pro-life officer for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh said: "The issue in Scotland is not that women cannot choose abortion but that too many women are left unsupported and feel abortion is the only choice available.

"According to Public Health Scotland abortion rates for women in most deprived areas are almost twice as high as in the least deprived areas.

"This suggests that many women are being forced into abortion by economic circumstances.

"We call on Scottish Government and any ‘pro-choice’ organisation to step up and do the hard work of supporting women who choose to keep their babies.

"Changing laws around abortion is a welcome first step in building a culture of life where no child is unwanted, no woman unloved and the pressures which lead to abortion no longer exist.

"We ask everyone to support the many crisis pregnancy services who provide free and long term support to mothers and their children including, in our Archdiocese, Stanton Healthcare East of Scotland."

Roe v Wade: why it matters

America could be on the brink of a major decision on abortion that could lead to the saving of millions of unborn children. What impact would it have on America and the rest of the world? Here we present some FAQs to help you understand what's happening.

What is Roe v Wade?
In 1973, Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”) challenged Texas’ law which prohibited doctors from performing abortions.  “Wade” was Henry Wade, the district attorney of Dallas. In the Roe vs Wade decision the Supreme Court decided that abortion was a ‘right’ found in the 14th amendment of the US Constitution.

What then happened?
The Roe decision struck down many State laws and made abortion a Federal issue in the United States.  The plaintiff, Norma McCorvey (“Jane Roe”)  eventually became a Catholic and campaigned against abortion.

What is the key legal point being argued?
The US Constitution does not refer to abortion, so the claim that there is a right to it, which was the foundation for the 1973 decision, has no basis in fact.

Why is it in the news?
This week media reports are suggesting the Court has decided that Roe will be overturned. This follows a leaked draft majority opinion that has been widely reported.

What does the Court say about Roe v Wade?
Justice Alito, in the leaked document, is reported to have written: “The Constitution makes no reference to abortion and no such right is implicitly protected”.

What else is he reported to have written?
He notes that “a right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the Nation’s history and traditions” and “Roe was on a collision course with the Constitution from the day it was decided”.   He concludes: “the Constitution does not confer a right to abortion.  Roe… must be overruled and the authority must be returned to the people and their elected representatives”.

Does it mean abortion will be banned in the US?
It does not mean abortion will banned in the US - pro-abortion media and commentators are exaggerating the effects of the draft decision.

So what will it mean?
If overturned, US abortion laws will be decided by individual states rather than at a Federal level.  This is consistent with Catholic social teaching and the principle of subsidiarity which holds that political decisions should be taken at a local level if possible, rather than by a central authority.

So that’s good for unborn children and their mothers?
Yes. States in the US that want to democratically pass pro-life laws would be able to do so and lives will be saved as a result.

This is happening in America, why should I care?
Because potentially millions of human lives will be saved from the horror of abortion. The impact of a decision to overturn Roe v Wade will be felt around the world.

How many abortions have taken place in the UK?
9,898,425 lives have been lost as a result of 54 years of legal abortion in the UK.

What about Scotland?
In Scotland, women from the poorest areas have abortion rates twice as high as those from wealthy areas. Being genuinely ‘pro-choice’ means supporting women who want to keep their children so they are not forced into abortion for economic reasons.

Has the First Minister commented on Roe v Wade?

Nicola Sturgeon posted on Twitter: "The right of women to decide what happens to our own bodies is a human right. And experience tells us that removing the legal right to abortion doesn’t stop abortions happening - it just makes them unsafe and puts the lives of women at much greater risk."

Is she open to dialogue on the issue?
It doesn't appear so. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children posted a Tweet showing she had blocked them on Twitter.

What is the Catholic teaching on abortion?
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: "Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception" (2270) and "Since the first century the Church has affirmed the moral evil of every procured abortion." (2271).

What does Pope Francis say about abortion?
Speaking to media in 2021, he said: "Abortion is murder.. Those who carry out abortions kill. At the third week after conception, often even before the mother is aware (of being pregnant), all the organs are already (starting to develop). It is a human life. Period. And this human life has to be respected.."

What pro-life work happens in our Archdiocese?
We have a pro-life office which helps provide real choices and support to women in unexpected pregnancy situations. Recently, Stanton Healthcare has been established in Edinburgh to give support to women facing a crisis pregnancy. Recently, the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children hosted it annual pro-life chain in Edinburgh.

What can I do?
Catholic social teaching has always placed special emphasis on helping those in need. Caring for unborn children and their mothers follows Jesus’ instructions in St Matthew’s Gospel (see below). Please pray for an end to killing of the most vulnerable humans - the unborn.

Contact our Pro-Life Office
Could you help unborn children and their mothers in our Archdiocese? There are lots of different ways to help. Contact Paul Atkin at the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office: 0131 623 8917 | prolife@staned.org.uk

PDF version of above infographic here.

40 Days for Life vigil in Edinburgh: peaceful and prayerful

Police Scotland has confirmed there are no records of anti-social behavior by pro-life groups at vigils in Edinburgh.

The peaceful 40 Days for Life vigil, which has been held next to the Chalmers abortion clinic, comes to an end tomorrow (Sunday) with a candlelight prayer vigil.

In a response to a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, Police Scotland states “there were no incidents”, while NHS Lothian confirms there were “no adverse events” relating to any groups at the Chalmers Sexual Health Centre in Chalmers Street.

This response is consistent with multiple FOI responses by the Police and NHS Lothian who have repeatedly confirmed they have no records of any intimidation or harassment at pro-life vigils. Those taking part in the 40 Days for Life vigil must sign a peace statement. to take part.

Recently, local MP Tommy Sheppard tweeted that two people attending a 40 Days for Life vigil at Chalmers Street were "attempting to intimidate woman (sic)". An image in the tweet shows a woman holding a placard with 'Bye baby' written on it. The tweet (below) has since been deleted.

Paul Atkin, of the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office said: "Vigils are peaceful, prayerful and helpful to women facing unexpected pregnancy.

"Police and NHS incident management systems are reliable and credible sources of information which have, again, confirmed there are no records of any incidents relating to pro-life vigils.

"A prayer vigil is a very restrained response to Edinburgh’s Chalmers clinic which last year,was responsible for over 2,000 abortions, a 25% increase on the previous year."


He added: "Now is not the time to ban offers of help to vulnerable women, many of whom are from the most deprived areas of Scotland. Women in difficult circumstances may feel that abortion is the only choice available to them.

"Pro-Life vigils offer alternatives including help with baby equipment, materials, benefits advice, accommodation and whatever a woman needs, for as long as she needs it, including after birth.

"Scotland doesn’t need more abortion – we need a proper national debate about how to humanely support women with unexpected pregnancies."

Buffer zones at abortion centres would be 'disproportionate'

The Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office has welcomed reports that the Scottish Government has rejected proposals to ban peaceful prayers and offers of help at abortion clinics.

It comes following an article in The Scotsman that said it had called buffer zones a "disproportionate" measure.

Paul Atkin, Pro-Life Officer for the Archdiocese, said: "The Scottish Government has acknowledged that banning peaceful prayer would be a disproportionate response.

"This confirms what we've been saying for some time that pro-life vigils are peaceful, prayerful and helpful for women.

"Participants must sign a ‘Statement of Peace’ and members of the public have been supportive.

"Abortion supporters have made many false allegations about vigils so we welcome this evidence-based decision by Scottish Government. Freedom of Information requests to Police Scotland have confirmed that there are no incidents on record.

"The NHS have also been asked and have said they have no record of anything untoward."

He added: "In 2020, there were 13,815 abortions across Scotland; 209 of these children were aborted because they were thought to be disabled. Women from our most deprived areas have abortion rates 2.2 times higher than women from the least deprived areas.


For many women and their families in our Archdiocese abortion is something they are pushed into by financial circumstances or a lack of knowledge of the support and alternatives that exist.

"Alternatives do exist; Pro-Life organisations across Scotland offer baby materials, support, help with accommodation, emotional support or whatever a new Mum needs, for as long as she needs it after birth as well.

"Peaceful Pro-Life vigils offer a chance for women to receive this help and support. Some women have said they would have run to a vigil if they had seen one when they presented for an abortion they later regretted. Vigils can also sign post women to post-abortion care and healing after the event."

40 Days for Life is starting a new campaign in Edinburgh on 22 September for 40 days. Will you be in the capital during that time? Could you pray one hour with them?  Find out more: www.40daysforlife.com/edinburgh

Scottish Government 'hell bent' on making home abortion permanent

The Scottish government has been accused of deliberately diminishing the views of thousands of individuals who responded to a consultation on home abortions in July.

Anthony Horan, Director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, has condemned the decision to nullify the responses of the majority of people who took part in the consultation and opposed the government’s stance.

Mr Horan said: "Additionally, more than 600 medical professionals signed an open letter to the Scottish, Welsh and English governments calling for an end to “at-home” abortion because of concerns about abortions occurring beyond the ten-week limit and about women and girls being coerced into an abortion against their will.”


“Yet, despite this, the Scottish Government shockingly sought to downplay those individuals who raised concerns, labelling a significant number of the responses as “organised by pro-life or faith groups” as if to downgrade their importance. The same treatment was not given to pro-abortion groups.”

Mr Horan describes the Scottish Government’s publication last week of its Women’s Health Plan which sets out the government’s intention to “make telephone and video consultation universally available as an option for abortion services” as a “deeply concerning” development which undermines the government’s own commitment to “commission an independent evaluation to assess the effectiveness of the current approach, including in relation to safety”.

Mr Horan describes the Scottish government as being “hell bent on making the (home abortion) arrangements permanent” and claims “the Scottish Government is risking the health and wellbeing of vulnerable women and their unborn children and riding roughshod over democratic convention.

"It is dangerous for women, and it is dangerous for democracy.”

Paul Atkin, The Archdiocese's Pro-Life Officer, said: "Scotland has a massive inequality for women in the most deprived areas who have abortion rates twice as high as those from wealthy areas.

"Instead of making abortion easier Scottish Government should be supporting positive choices for pregnant women who are being forced into abortion by poverty."

Read Anthony Horan's article on the website of the Catholic Parliamentary Office.  

Abortion decision threatens value of consulting public

Over the past 20 years the Scottish government has conducted hundreds of consultations, generating many thousands of responses.

Consultations were seen as a mechanism to garner evidence and opinion from organisations and individuals which fed in to the public policy and legislative process.

They set out to “seek views” and “gather evidence” and seemed like an entirely innocuous way of taking the pulse of the nation.

Or at least they were until last week when the Scottish government broke with every previous convention and deliberately set out to diminish and demean the views of thousands of individuals who took part in the Consultation on Future Arrangements for Early Medical Abortion at Home.

The consultation ran for three months at the end of last year.

Owing to the pandemic, the government had changed the rules for early abortions, no longer requiring women to attend a hospital clinic to take mifepristone, the two sets of pills, under medical supervision.

Instead, powerful abortifacients could be taken at home.

Although more than 600 medical professionals signed an open letter to the Scottish, Welsh and English governments calling for an end to “at-home” abortion because of concerns about abortions occurring beyond the ten-week limit and about women and girls being coerced into an abortion against their will, the Scottish government consulted on whether the arrangements should become permanent or revert to the previous arrangements.

DIY home abortions are associated with incidents including significant pain and bleeding, ruptured ectopics and haemorrhage.

Only 17 per cent of submissions to the consultation supported home abortions being made permanent. A total of 61 per cent wanted home abortion services ended and 74 per cent believed they had a negative impact on the safety of women.

In a shocking analysis of the consultation results, however, a sinister anti-faith bias is evident.

A significant number of responses from the public were labelled as “organised by pro-life or faith groups” as if to suggest that they should be dismissed or downgraded in importance. Worryingly, responses from pro-abortion groups were not singled out.

Clearly wrong-footed by the overwhelming opposition to home abortion, the Scottish government has sought to diminish the results and to commission an “independent evaluation” of the procedure. There are no prizes for guessing what the outcome of that exercise will be.

Peter Kearney is director of the Catholic Media Office in Scotland. This article first appeared in The Times.

Reduction in ‘abortion aid’ welcomed

The Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office has welcomed news that the UK Government will cut funding to the UNFPA, which provides abortions in developing countries.

The UK Government announced that it will pledge £23m to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) projects this year, as opposed to the initially pledged figure of  £154m.

Paul Atkin, of the Archdiocesan Pro-Life Office, said: “Last year, we called on the Government to end ‘abortion aid’ and divert funds to real aid projects run by Catholic charities to save both money and lives.  This announcement of a reduction in funding, whatever the Government's foremost motivation, is a welcome move. It will likely be welcomed by the public, 65% of which have stated they are opposed to their taxes being used to fund overseas abortions.” 

The Government’s announcement was made following an Independent Commission for Aid Impact report that condemned the UK Government for favouring overseas aid spending on abortion at the expense of strengthening the delivery of quality maternal care programmes.

However, UK Government continues to fund large abortion providing organisations, such as MSI International, formerly known as Marie Stopes International.

Marie Stopes was born and educated in Edinburgh. The Pro-Life Office recently sponsored a talk which exposed the eugenic motivations of her birth control clinics.  Watch the talk on YouTube below, or here.

A spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson said: “While this decision is certainly a step in the right direction, this funding cut is a tiny fraction of the huge amount being spent on abortion providers.

"We are now calling on the Government to review all spending on organisations that provide abortion overseas.”

Priest: Mum's act of faith and love saved my life

A priest has described how his mother's "act of faith and love" saved his life as she resisted pressure to abort him following an unplanned pregnancy.

Fr John McInnes, of Our Lady & St Bernadette's in Larbert, gave a poignant testimony during his reflection at our online Pro-Life Stations of the Cross earlier this week (watch the full reflection below - 5 min view).

He said: "7years ago my natural mother, a young Irish woman, somehow resisted pressure to terminate me - her unplanned and unwanted pregnancy -  through what was then the horrific practice of backstreet abortion.

"She registered my birth on the Feast of the Presentation...and it's always felt to me like an act of faith and love by her, for a son she knew she could not keep but whom she wanted to know was loved and was a blessing nevertheless."

He added: "Happily, I was put up for fostering and eventually adopted by a family who, in the saddest of ironies, had themselves just lost a son through miscarriage. 

"The rest is history and has informed and guided my own strong pro-life views ever since.

"Such choices and decisions are not as easily made these days against the secular din which promotes abortion as a woman's legal right and where the victim of abortion, the child, has no rights."

Pro-Life Stations of the Cross each Monday in Lent at 7:45pm (Zoom) Register here. Find out more about the work of our Pro-Life Office by emailing prolife@staned.org.uk

Reflection and Testimony: Fr John McInnes

For any expectant mothers and families among us who have experienced the sudden shock of natural miscarriage, the effects are traumatic, complex and devastating

A long prayed for, prepared for, joyfully anticipated addition of a child in the family is just gone. A child who can only now be mourned and commended to God.

Abortion, we feel instinctively, is infinitely more shocking and sinister: a deliberate clinical intervention to remove from the womb a human life, leading immediately to his or her death.

For me, for us all I think, there are no sophisticated, subtle or aggressive arguments that can alter these facts. 

So the result of every abortion is the same: a human soul with all the potential they can bring as a child of God and a member of our human race, now lost to the world.

The woman's right to choose, is often given as the justification for termination of an unwanted pregnancy, but the nagging question remains: what happens to the child's rights when such choices are being made

So the termination and premature ending of any human life is what we, through our pro-life acitivities and agencies, focus our energies on challenging, though at the same time offering genuine compassion, supportnon-judgmental advice and guidance on the alternative life choices for women who, until that moment, have felt pressurised into having an abortion. 

The way of the cross is a sombre and timely reminder of Jesus as that innocent victim of betrayal by his closest friends, as well as enemies, leading to the termination of his own earthly life on the cross.

The cross also stands forever as the sign of his decision to save us by sacrificing his life, forgiving us and offering us a share in his new life. In children's popular adventure stories a cross often marks the place where hidden treasure is to be found.

But there is something greater than children's stories here; Jesus cross opens for us the treasury of his mercy and love which we recall and revere every time we cross ourselves.

In the traditions of Lentespecially, we follow the way of the cross this evening as an act of atonement for our sins and those of others in matters of life and death and especially for all afflicted and affected by the sin of abortion. 

My story

If you’ll allow me a personal footnote: 7years ago my natural mother, a young Irish woman, somehow resisted pressure to terminate me - her unplanned and unwanted pregnancy through what was then the horrific practice of backstreet abortion.

She registered my birth on the Feast of the Presentation some weeks later and it's always felt to me like an act of faith and love by her for a son she knew she could not keep but whom she wanted to know was loved and was a blessing nevertheless

Happily, I was put up for fostering and eventually adopted by a family who in the saddest of ironies had themselves just lost a son through miscarriage. 

The rest is history and has informed and guided my own strong pro-life views ever since. Such choices and decisions are not as easily made these days against the secular din which promotes abortion as a woman's legal right and where the victim of abortion, the child, has no rights

May God bless and guide us, though, in our pro-life activities on behalf of those who have no voice in protecting their rights to life from womb to tomb, and for their mothers and all families tempted to end a life and are now suffering the long term and often unforeseen consequences of the decision to abort.

The Lord be with you all, in the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

WATCH: Mass for Feast of the Holy Innocents

Today is the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Archbishop Cushley celebrates Holy Mass online for the unborn and their mothers at the annual Archdiocesan pro-life Mass.