Safe access to abortion services in Scotland

The graphic shows a light purple background with dark purple left-aligned text quote that reads "Implementation of safe access zones around healthcare facilities must be part of an overarching and strategic plan to ensure all women can safely and legally access abortion at the point of need". In the top right-hand corner of the graphic there is Engender's logo, which is an equals sign in a bright purple circle.

Engender recently submitted a response to the consultation on the proposed Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill. We’ve given a brief rundown of key points in this blog. You can access the full submission here, which covers the specific questions raised in the consultation around implementation of safe access zones locally and nationally, the size of potential safe access zones, the effect of current protests on women and staff, as well as the impact on human rights and other measures needed to improve abortion services in Scotland.

Everyone deserves to access reproductive healthcare free from abuse and harassment. Unfortunately, today in Scotland we still see women, and others accessing pregnancy and abortion services, targeted by those who do not believe in bodily autonomy or our right to choose. Following recent activism from organisations and campaigns including Back Off Scotland and others, Scotland is now making progress towards establishing safe access zones (also known as ‘buffer zones’) to enable people to access services in safety.

Engender unequivocally supports women’s autonomy over our bodies and our lives; access to abortion is fundamental to women’s rights and gender equality. Harassment of women seeking healthcare represents an egregious interference with women’s basic human rights. It’s vital that the Scottish Government shows leadership and takes decisive action to legislate nationally for safe access zones, sending a clear message that harassment of women accessing routine and essential healthcare will not be tolerated in Scotland.

To prevent women from harm, safe access zones must be systematically implemented outside all facilities that provide abortion services. Otherwise, current patchy access and the postcode lottery that undermines women’s access to healthcare and reproductive rights will be deepened. For women in rural areas or women who use particular services due to cultural competence, inclusivity or accessibility, a reduction in options could undermine their ability to access safe and legal abortion, with resounding implications throughout their lives. Accessing quality healthcare is already a significant issue for women of colour, disabled women, trans women, refugee women and other minoritised groups of women in Scotland, and Scottish Government must do all that it can to ensure that services are consistently accessible across the country.

Implementation of safe access zones around healthcare facilities must also be part of an overarching and strategic plan to ensure all women can safely and legally access abortion at the point of need. A range of measures are needed to achieve this in Scotland. As we have set out in policy reports and briefings, Engender is also calling on the Scottish Government to:

  • Decriminalise abortion and remove the requirement for the ‘two doctors’ rule
  • Standardise access to abortion across Scotland, including with regards to regional variations in gestational time limits
  • Make permanent arrangements to allow early medical abortions at home
  • Develop capacity to perform non-medical abortions up to the legal gestational threshold in Scotland
  • Ensure that abortion care meets the needs of disabled women, women of colour, LBTI people, refugee women, young women and other minoritised groups
  • Ensure that no woman is unable to access abortion due to lack of financial support.

You can read our full response to the consultation online here.

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Access to Abortion: Situating Scotland in the Western WorldAccess to Abortion: Situating Scotland in the Western World This paper describes the different legal and regulatory contexts for abortion healthcare in Scotland and in other European and western nations.

Engender briefing on decriminalisation of abortion for the Scottish Parliament Citizen Participation and Public Petitions CommitteeEngender briefing on decriminalisation of abortion for the Scottish Parliament Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee This is a briefing for MSPs ahead of the Scottish Parliament Citizen Participation and Public Petitions Committee consideration of a new petition to amend the law to fully decriminalise abortion in Scotland on 22nd February 2023.

Our Bodies, Our Choice: The Case for a Scottish Approach to AbortionOur Bodies, Our Choice: The Case for a Scottish Approach to Abortion The devolution of abortion law as part of the Scotland Act 2016 also provides Scotland with the opportunity to develop a Scottish approach to women’s reproductive rights, incorporating improved, modernised and standardised service provision underpinned by a progressive devolved legal framework.

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