Scots consultants demand urgent action over anti-abortion protests that ‘bully patients’

A group of 76 Scots consultants have today written to the Women’s Health Minister to demand urgent action following shocking anti-abortion protests outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital.

It comes as around 100 protestors gathered across from the Maternity Unit at the hospital holding placards on Sunday evening.

Campaigners and politicians slammed the “intimidating” tactics by American group 40 Days For Life who recruited Scots activist Rose Docherty to organize protests at the QEUH.

The group began “prayer vigils” on March 2 and stood outside every day until April 10.

Health care professionals have now made a direct plea to Maree Todd MSP as they urged her to show “courage” and implement buffer zones as they are tired of watching patients “get bullied”.

Rose, far right, with other protestors on Friday

Part of the letter read: “As well as being our patients, these women are our sisters, daughters, and colleagues.

“They deserve compassion and support. They should be spared the deplorable intimidation and harassment which they currently receive from protesters.

“Similar protests have been going on at hospitals and clinics across Scotland since the 1990s, and we believe that Scottish Government action is long overdue.

“The Australian Minister for Health Roger Cook has said “ It takes courage to pass laws such as this ”.

“We call on you to show courage, and we wholeheartedly support the introduction of protest- free buffer zones in Scotland.”

Lead signatory and consultant pediatric radiologist, Dr Greg Irwin
Lead signatory and consultant pediatric radiologist, Dr Greg Irwin

Campaign group Back Off Scotland has been calling for the implementation of 150 meter buffer zones since October 2020.

They have continued to criticize the Women’s Health Minister for her inaction following commitments made in the SNP manifesto, the Scottish Government’s Women’s Health Plan, and the Program for Government 2021/22.

This year, Northern Ireland and Spain have both banned anti-abortion protests outside healthcare facilities providing abortion.

Lead signatory and consultant pediatric radiologist, Dr Greg Irwin, said: “We, as Consultants in the Children’s and the Maternity Hospitals, are seriously concerned about the anti-abortion protests occurring outside the QEUH.

“We know first-hand how distressing this harassment is for our patients, which makes it infuriating for us as clinical staff to have to pass these groups day-in-day-out.

“The protesters on Hardgate Road are as close as they can get to the maternity unit, meaning that our patients in the wards can see and hear them.

“These women may well be feeling vulnerable and upset. They should not have to put up with judgment or intimidation outside our hospital.

“How can we offer our patients the standard of care and support they deserve in this situation?

“Implementing buffer zones is essential to deal with this problem, both in Glasgow and throughout Scotland.”

Sexual and reproductive care consultant Dr Audrey Brown added: “For people accessing abortion care, and the staff providing it, the presence of anti-choice activists at the entrance to clinics and hospitals is distressing and is a form of emotional harassment.

Dr Audrey Brown
Dr Audrey Brown

“The language and images used on some placards is upsetting and offensive, not just to those accessing abortion care, but also to those who have experienced pregnancy loss in the past.

“These anti-choice protestors will further traumatise those who may be making a difficult decision, perhaps on a background of rape, gender-based violence, or medical grounds.

“Whilst abortion care providers recognize the right to protest, this should not be at clinical sites, where individual patients and staff are harassed and intimidated.”

A Scottish Humanist poll last year revealed that 82% of Scots want to end this type of targeted harassment outside abortion clinics.

MSP Gillian MacKay has introduced a member’s bill to bring in national buffer zone laws, which is expected to move to the public consultation stage next month.

On Monday she told the Record her bill was about protecting access to healthcare, rather than restricting protest, as she called for interim measures to be put in place in the short-term.

Protesters at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital
Protesters at Queen Elizabeth University Hospital

Lucy Grieve, Co-founder and Director of Back Off Scotland described the letter as a “powerful reminder” of how many people were affected by anti-choice protests.

She said: “This letter is a powerful reminder of just how many people anti-choice protests affect. Back Off Scotland is so grateful to these consultants for using their voices and standing up for Scottish women in a time where the Scottish Government is not.

“Not only do 70% of Scottish women live in areas where local clinics and hospitals have been targeted by anti-choice protests in recent years, we’ve heard numerous stories about the lasting impact that exposure to these protests has for patients. This is causing untold levels of harm across the board.

“The Women’s Health Minister’s lack of action on this matter calls into question her suitability to handle the women’s health portfolio. She needs to take swift action to introduce universal buffer zones around clinics to protect those accessing these services now.”

Women’s campaigner and Central Scotland MSP Monica Lennon added: “This significant intervention by leading doctors in Scotland must prompt SNP ministers into taking emergency legal action to protect safe access to abortion healthcare.

Monica Lennon wants to see buffer zones fast-tracked
Monica Lennon wants to see buffer zones fast-tracked

“We need Nicola Sturgeon and Maree Todd to wake up to the harm and trauma anti-choice protestors are causing. Buffer zones are long overdue to create a safe environment around clinics.

“Abortion rights in Scotland are under attack and the Scottish Government must show leadership.”

The woman behind the QEUH protests, Rose Docherty, from Bishopbriggs, previously revealed she was recruited by the American-based religious group 40 Days For Life.

She was tracked down by organizers as they specifically looked for activists in Scotland.

The group have since confirmed they now have a network of ‘several hundred’ volunteers operating in the country.

Rose Docherty
Rose Docherty was recruited by 40 Days For Life

Rose previously told the Record: “They found out about me through the pro-life grapevine.

“They just wanted to know if there was anyone in Scotland and I said I’d be willing to do that and I’d be willing to come out.”

She claimed the group offer ‘help’ to women who she believes may be ‘coerced’ into abortion by standing across from facilities.

She added: “We are offering pro-life pregnancy crisis support and we’re offering help to women experiencing post abortion syndrome as well.”

The group 40 Days For Life was set up in 2004 by people protesting at an abortion facility in Texas.

They expanded their network through the southern states of America before infiltrating new countries to become a world-wide group.

Maree Todd MSP 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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