Buffer Zone Bill will take ‘sledgehammer to civil liberties’

Earlier this week the Daily Record covered the debate set to take place among MSPs on whether to have 'Buffer Zones' around abortion clinics, writes Peter Kearney, of the Scottish Catholic Media Office.

A Bill proposed by Green MSP Gillian MacKay would criminalise any action aimed at persuading someone not to access abortion or to consider an alternative, within 200 metres of premises carrying out abortions.

It would become illegal, to:

The Bill takes a sledgehammer to free speech and demolishes many other civil liberties, including freedom of expression, assembly, thought, conscience and religion.

It could create for the first time in Scottish legal history, a thought crime. You would just need to think negatively about the actions of others to fall foul of the law.

With so much at stake, it’s probably worth asking: what exactly is the problem this terrible Bill is trying to solve?

Well, you might be surprised to learn that no one has ever been arrested outside an abortion facility in Scotland, for breach of the peace, harassment or intimidation.

Police Scotland have stated explicitly that “existing powers and offences are sufficient to address any unlawful behaviour which may arise in the vicinity of a health care premises as a result of such protest.”

They add: “Our engagement with participants...has not resulted in any criminality being identified.”

As the Record’s powerful pictures showed this week, a group of pensioners saying prayers on the pavement isn’t exactly threatening.


Since the cops are clear; no crimes are being committed and no new laws are needed, the Bill looks a lot like a sledgehammer being wielded against an invisible nut.

Peaceful protest used to be a cornerstone of our democracy.

Silent vigils have always been seen as harmless and unthreatening.

If we crush that concept now, where will it end?

Silent Peace vigils outside the Trident nuclear base at Faslane have been a fixture for decades, they explicitly attempt to influence those who witness them, but no Scots politician has ever said we should ban them.

That’s because for generations we’ve respected freedom of expression, freedom of assembly, and freedom of thought conscience and religion as the hard-won human rights they are and wouldn’t dream of erasing them.

Threat to freedoms

The proposed “Buffer Zone” law would at a stroke undo almost a century of settled international human rights law, leaving our courts to determine whether an individual’s thoughts were permissible or not.

Such a threat to universal and fundamental rights is genuinely frightening.

A growing number of people in Scotland are waking up to this real threat to our freedoms and are calling on the Scottish Government to disassociate itself from this damaging and unnecessary proposal.

Our MSPs should steer well clear of unravelling our Human Rights by allowing the Police to protect the peace, the prayerful to pray and the concept of freedom of expression to survive.

Peter Kearney is Director of the Scottish Catholic Media Office. The Daily Record, having commissioned the above article, refused to publish it.