John Mason sparks outrage among medical experts after claims women “pushed into abortion”

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Following comments made by the Glasgow Shettleston MSP this weekend, abortion providers have voiced their frustration and anger at his claims that women are coerced by staff into having abortions.

It comes after the MSP continued his defense of anti-abortion “vigils” on Twitter after a rise of the protests outside Glasgow hospitals and clinics across Scotland.

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In an email to campaign group Back Off Scotland, which seeks to implement buffer zones around abortion providers to push such vigils further away from patients, Mr Mason said he had attended one of the events to speak to the people there, and went on to say he believed abortion was “seldom essential or vital”.

John Mason, who represents Glasgow Shettleston, has been criticized in recent weeks for his defense of anti-abortion “vigils” that have sprung up at Glasgow hospitals.

At some of the vigils, activists can be seen holding signs saying “women do regret abortion”, among other slogans offering “support” and “advice”.

On Saturday, Mr Mason, while engaging on Twitter around the subject, said: “Surely these signs are very gentle and offering help?

“I do not see anything hateful or harassing about these signs.”

When pressed on whether he believed women seeking an abortion should be asked how they feel, he added: “Yes absolutely.

“But the concern is that the clinics are not always asking the women how they feel.

“Some clinics seem to be pushing abortion without laying out the pros and cons.”

Dr Audrey Brown, an abortion provider based in Glasgow, has said she has been left “so angry” at the comments from the MSP.

Dr Brown said: “He needs to reconsider what he is saying. People accessing abortion in Scotland have a full consultation with a highly trained clinician and consider all their options.

“The clinics are there to support people to make their best decision whatever that decision is. Absolutely no-one is pushed into having an abortion by staff in the clinic.

“Everyone having a medical procedure has to provide informed consent and you cannot get this without explaining the pros and cons.”

Post and pre-counselling is also available via the NHS if people are unsure as to how they want to proceed with a pregnancy.

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Dr Brown added: “I can’t imagine he has any evidence and I can’t imagine he’s been in an abortion clinic or party to abortion clinic consultations.

The consultant in sexual and reproductive health is worried about the comments made by Mr Mason are “spreading misinformation” and “questioning the integrity of staff who work in abortion care”.

“If someone is perhaps considering an abortion and they are not sure what they are going to do then if they think, what Mr Mason is suggesting, staff are going to push them into an abortion, it might make them afraid to access a clinic, said Dr Brown.

The issue has come to the fore in recent months, resulting in Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay seeking to legislate at Holyrood for buffer zones, as well as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and women’s health minister Maree Todd being urged to act.

The First Minister has repeatedly condemned the vigils, urging protesters instead to come to parliament to voice their opposition to abortion, and has set up a working group to assess the legal viability of buffer zones.

Midwife Leah Hazard also said she is “incandescent with rage” at Mr Mason’s comments.

She added: “How dare an MSP assume that maternity staff might ‘push’ abortions on women and don’t care how they feel?

“Abortions are sometimes lifesaving, sometimes heartbreaking, and *always* healthcare. Come walk a shift in a midwife’s shoes, John Mason.”

The SNP has backed the introduction of anti-abortion protest buffer zones in their manifesto and program for government.

Scotland has yet to implement buffer zones as Nicola Sturgeon has said ‘complex legal issues’ around anti-abortion buffer zones remain.

The buffer zones would ban certain activities designed to deter or prevent women from accessing abortion care within 150 meters of the entrance to a clinic or hospital.

Last month, over 100 anti-abortion activists protested outside the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Glasgow which led to 76 doctors signing an open letter to Women’s Health Minister Maree Todd backing the implementation of 150m anti-abortion protest buffer zones.

The campaign group Back Off Scotland, calling for buffer zones, is urging the Scottish Government to introduce emergency legislation around the issue as they say these protests “threaten and traumatise” women’s access to healthcare.

Ms Sturgeon said the democratic right to protest had to be respected but added: “I think people protesting outside a hospital against abortion is wrong.

“I think there’s a strong case for buffer zones but I can’t magic away the legal complexities.”

Any laws which are passed need to “be compliant” with other areas such as the European Convention of Human Rights Act, according to the First Minister.

“I would like to see us move forward but it’s about how we do that in a way which is capable of standing up to any challenges,” she said.

Commenting on the recent claims from the MSP, Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland said: “John Mason’s false claims are incredibly dangerous and ignorant.

“This is the same elected official that admitted attending anti-choice protests at Scottish hospitals.

“He clearly has no idea what goes on during an abortion, and his comments are offensive to abortion providers and their patients.”

Labour’s Jackie Baillie also stood against the claims, calling them “baseless” and “an insult to all the women who’ve had to make this difficult decision and all the hardworking NHS staff who’ve supported them through it.”

Liberal Democrat leader Alex Cole-Hamilton said the MSP’s claims were “ridiculous”, adding Mr Mason “doesn’t really have a clue what some people are going through.”

The SNP has been contacted for comment.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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