An MSP for the Scottish National Party has received a formal warning from party whips for publicly stating a pro-life position on abortion and his opposition to the introduction of censorship zones outside abortion clinics.
SNP MSP John Mason was issued a formal written warning by party whips, Stuart McMillan and Gordon MacDonald on 29 June for his public comments on abortion.
The contents of the warning were obtained and published by the Daily Record. In the letter, the party whips state: “Your lack of sensitivity especially in the current context has been noted. Your behaviour and conduct have been extremely disappointing, and we believe that you have brought the Parliamentary group into disrepute”.
“We would like to make it clear that we absolutely respect your right to hold your views on abortion and your right to freedom of speech and expression. We do not, however, believe that you have the right to impose these views on others”.
“The verbalisation of your views has caused great distress and trauma to many women and have also been regarded as misinformation by medical professionals”.
“Surely these signs are very gentle and offering help?”
In a Twitter thread from May, Mr Mason said that he had attended a vigil outside a hospital where abortions are performed. When asked about the vigil during which some activists have been seen holding signs saying “women do regret abortion”, among other slogans, he said: “Surely these signs are very gentle and offering help? I do not see anything hateful or harassing about these signs”.
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Mr Mason said he had attended one of the events to speak to people there, and added that abortion was “seldom essential or vital”. According to the latest abortion statistics, only 111 out of 214,256 abortions were performed on grounds related to saving the life of the mother.
Responding to someone who said women seeking abortions should be asked how they feel, he said: “Yes absolutely. That is the key. 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”.
In 2017, a damning report from the UK’s Care Quality Commission (CQC) accused the abortion provider Marie Stopes International (now MSI Reproductive Choices) of paying staff bonuses for persuading women to have abortions.
At all 70 Marie Stopes clinics, inspectors from the Care Quality Commission found evidence of a policy that saw staff utilise a high-pressure sales tactic, calling women who had decided against having an abortion to offer them another appointment.
The accusation of medical misinformation appears to stem from a letter organised by pro-censorship zone group, Back Off Scotland (which is an offshoot of the Back Off campaign run by the UK’s largest abortion provider, BPAS), although Mr Mason himself was not mentioned. In the letter, Dr Greg Irwin, a consultant paediatric radiologist, and 76 colleagues at Glasgow’s Queen Elizabeth University hospital asked the Scottish Government to introduce censorship zones.
“I am struggling to see how these two fit together”.
Mr Mason’s response to the warning was also published by the Daily Record. He said: “You say that I have the ‘right to freedom of speech and expression’ on abortion but later that the ‘verbalisation of your views has caused great distress and trauma’. I am struggling to see how these two fit together”.
“I accept that for many people who have decided on an abortion, they are content with the service provided”.
“However, for at least some women who perhaps were being coerced or who had not fully made up their minds, they consider that they have had a bad experience”.
Silencing pro-lifers will harm Scottish independence
In subsequent correspondence, the whips confirmed that his opposition to censorship zones had led to the rebuke.
Later correspondence to Mr Mason from Mr McMillan and SNP MSP Rona Mackay said: “The fact that you choose to use a public platform to express your personal views, as a public figure and an elected member, is in our view using your position to promote and impose your views on others”.
However, Mr Mason also said that silencing pro-life politicians like him is likely to harm the move for Scottish Independence.
He said: “Traditionally the SNP has allowed freedom of conscience and a free vote on issues like abortion and assisted dying. I myself have spoken out on abortion at varying times and have always tried to be open about my views”.
“I have been elected 8 times in Glasgow with these views and most noticeably in the 2008 Westminster by-election when my views (on both abortion and embryology) received widespread media coverage”.
“Even our campaign team at that time accepted that my pro-life position was helping our campaign, although we all agreed I should not overly focus on that. Has the SNP position changed since then?”
“I fully accept that a majority of the public, the Party members, and our MSPs would take a pro-choice position. But is it not to the advantage of the SNP and the wider Yes movement that we include both pro-choice and pro-life MSPs in our Group? In that way we are more likely to keep pro-life members and voters on board”.
He added: “I have had several messages from SNP members thanking me for speaking out as I have done. Is there not a risk that we lose SNP and independence voters if we are to exclude all pro-life voices in Parliament?”
The leader of the SNP Nicola Sturgeon has been clear about her intention to introduce censorship zones outside abortion clinics that would make it illegal to offer alternatives to abortion outside abortion clinics, and could result in jail time for people who do so.
Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “On the one hand, SNP whips claim to support freedom of speech, on the other, when Mr Mason actually exercised his freedom of speech, they penalised him for it. The whips are being completely dishonest. They have a view about abortion and censorship zones and are intolerant of those with a different view. It is as simple as that”.