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Scottish capital rejects ‘buffer zones’ to censor pro-life prayer vigils

Society for the Protection of Unborn Children

March 20, 2019 (Society for the Protection of Unborn Children) — Edinburgh City Council has decided against creating so called "censorship zones" outside abortion facilities in the Scottish capital.

The council is the first in Scotland to consider and throw out proposals to ban peaceful pro-life vigils.

A joint working party involving The City of Edinburgh Council, NHS Lothian and Police Scotland had considered the establishment of a zone which would have prohibited prayer, information and conversations taking place in proscribed areas around local abortion facilities.

No need for buffer zones 

report focusing on peaceful pro-life vigils presented to the Edinburgh South East Locality Committee Monday (18 March) did not recommend using police powers to ban vigils. It quoted NHS officials from the facilities where vigils take place as saying that "as things currently stood there was no overwhelming evidence to suggest the actions were causing unnecessary distress and as such did not feel the necessity to enact any police measures". Indeed, the "silent vigils" outside Edinburgh Royal Infirmary are "often not noticed". 

Victory for vulnerable women

The decision has been welcomed by Michael Robinson, Communications Director for SPUC (Scotland) who said:

We know from official figures that poor women in Scotland have abortion rates twice as high as those who are well off. Peaceful pro-life vigils offer practical, emotional and financial support to vulnerable women who might otherwise be forced into an abortion they do not want. This is a significant victory for common sense, for free speech and above all for the many vulnerable women who choose to have their babies with assistance from pro-life vigils.

Edinburgh mum Patricia Maclennan, who organises peaceful vigils in the city added: "We are so grateful to the council and the NHS for respecting our right to freely pray. We have been offering support, love and compassion for more than eleven years and in that time, we have never been anything put peaceful and respectful in our behaviour."

Important precedent

The decision will likely be seen as a test case for the treatment of vigils in Scotland, where the situation differs from England and Wales. Scotland does not have dedicated abortion clinics, and the Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs) used to ban vigils in Ealing, and, recently, Twickenham, are not available. 

Nonetheless, the decision in Edinburgh is an important example for councils around the UK and should be a reminder of the need for respecting freedom of assembly and speech. Most council areas in the UK have not enacted the censorship measures introduced in Richmond and Ealing. The Ealing decision is being challenged in court and Richmond has still not enacted its decision. There is hope that democracy and freedom will prevail.

Published with permission from the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children.

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