Scotland Wants to Ban Pro-Life People From Praying Outside Abortion Centers

International   |   SPUC   |   Aug 11, 2022   |   3:06PM   |   Glasgow, Scotland

The deadline for submissions on the introduction of buffer zones to Scotland is fast approaching. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) is calling on any supporters who haven’t yet registered their objections to buffer zones to take part in the consultation exercise before it closes at 11.59 pm on 11 AUGUST.

To maximise opposition to the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill, SPUC has produced a guide to help people respond to the online survey.

The Bill, sponsored by Green MSP, Gillian Mackay, would criminalise people taking part in entirely peaceful pro-life vigils near abortion facilities, threatening them, upon summary conviction, with six months imprisonment and a substantial fine. The proposal has gained the support of First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, despite the Bill raising very serious concerns for the protection of civil and political rights in Scotland.

These concerns have been highlighted in SPUC’s own submission to the consultation.

Protecting freedom of speech and basic human rights

Pro-life freedom of speech is central to the fight against abortion, and on several occasions, SPUC has successfully defeated challenges to the pro-life message before the Advertising Standards Authority and the European Court of Human Rights.[1] While the right to life is the foundation and prerequisite for all other rights, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are essential for the protection of fundamental rights guaranteed in both domestic and international law.

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Article 11 of the European Convention on Human Rights makes it clear that national governments have a positive legal obligation to protect freedom of assembly. SPUC’s submission quotes guidance on Article 11 published by the European Court of Human Rights, which emphasises the importance of this right in a democratic society.

“States must not only refrain from applying unreasonable indirect restrictions on the right to assemble peacefully but also safeguard that right. Although the essential object of Article 11 is to protect the individual against arbitrary interference by public authorities with the exercise of the rights protected, there may in addition be positive obligations to secure the effective enjoyment of these rights.

“A positive obligation to secure the effective enjoyment of freedom of assembly is of particular importance for persons holding unpopular views or belonging to minorities, because they are more vulnerable to victimisation.”

The enactment of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill would breach the legal obligation of the Scottish Parliament to safeguard the peaceful exercise of Article 11 rights.

Similarly, in 2012, the ECHR stated: “The Court considers, however, that the freedom to take part in a peaceful assembly is of such importance that it cannot be restricted in any way, so long as the person concerned does not himself commit any reprehensible act on such an occasion.”[2]

The increasing assault on free speech – the broader context

The recent ruling by the US Supreme Court that access to abortion is not a right within the American Constitution has led abortion advocates in the UK to adopt ever more extreme measures to drive the pro-life movement out of the public arena. Buffer zones around abortion facilities should be understood in the context of increasing pressure to prohibit the public display of all pro-life material and sentiment.

At present, the pro-life, anti-abortion message is routinely subjected to distortion and censorship in the press and broadcast media. Pro-life posts and advertising on social media are frequently shadow-banned. In universities, pro-life student groups commonly face discrimination, harassment and threats of violence. But the danger posed by the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill goes beyond all these problems. The criminalisation of peaceful demonstrators will have consequences not just for the pro-life movement but for the rights of those who express any opinion deemed to be intolerable.

In light of the violations of human rights that the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill would sanction, and the dangerous precedent it sets, SPUC is urging its supporters to respond to the consultation, defend pro-life freedom of speech and call for the Bill to be withdrawn.

Members of the public who are not Scottish residents can also take part in the consultation exercise.

[1] Bowman v the UK, App No 141/1996/760/961 (ECHR 19 February 1998)

[2] Fáber v Hungary, App No 40721/08 (ECHR 24 October 2012) 47

LifeNews Note: Courtesy of SPUC. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children is a leading pro-life organization in the United Kingdom.