Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill: business and regulatory impact assessment

Business and regulatory impact assessment (BRIA) for the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Scotland) Bill.


Within Government

The Bill has been discussed and developed with internal colleagues within the following areas:

  • Justice
  • Human Rights
  • Faith and Belief
  • Women’s Health Plan
  • Health and Social Care Analysis
  • Children’s Rights

Public Consultation

Ms Gillian Mackay MSP ran a full 12-week public consultation between 18 May 2022 – 11 August 2022[6] which invited responses from anyone who wished to express a view.

The consultation analysis was published on 15th June 2023.[7] The consultation received 11,879 responses in total, of which 52 were from organisations, and 11,827 from individuals. Responses to the consultation were polarised - of the responses received from individuals, 56.1% were fully in favour of the proposal whilst 42.6% were fully opposed to the proposal. A further 1.3% of individuals were either partially in support of, or partially opposed to the proposal. 63% of organisations which responded were fully in favour, whilst 31% were fully opposed.

Responses in favour of the Bill cited the various harms associated with and personal experiences of anti-abortion activity as detailed above. They welcomed the proposed introduction of measures to protect service users and providers from anti-abortion activity from occurring outside premises providing abortion services.

Of those who were opposed to the Bill, many noted the infringement of rights, such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression and freedom of assembly[8]. Respondents opposed to the Bill were also keen to highlight their belief that silent prayer vigils do not distress or harm women, and that there is no evidence to support the assertion that anti-abortion activities outside premises providing abortion services have a negative impact on those accessing or using abortion services. They also noted that participation in anti-abortion activity was often motivated by a number of factors, including a desire to provide support to those considering abortion; to ensure that the availability of alternatives is clear; and to bear witness to the activities taking place in premises providing abortion services. The consultation made clear that carrying out these activities was of profound importance to those who participate.

Taken as a whole, the responses confirmed the emotive nature of the issue, and that consensus on the need for measures will remain very challenging. However, the testimonies of those affected provided sufficient evidence to support measures to protect service users and providers. In particular, they highlighted that, while there is a gulf between the motivation of those participating in anti-abortion activity and its impact, the impacts reported are nonetheless significant and can have lasting effects.

In addition to Ms Mackay’s consultation the Scottish Government has engaged widely with stakeholders to understand opposition to and support for safe access zones and their potential impacts.

In November 2021, the former Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport, Maree Todd MSP, convened a working group to explore short, medium and long term solutions to the harmful impacts of anti-abortion activity taking place in the vicinity of premises which provide abortion services. The group comprised members from Police Scotland, the Convention of Scottish Local Authorities (CoSLA), local authorities and representatives from affected Health Boards. The Group were instrumental in evaluating the need for new measures to tackle anti-abortion activity outside abortion services.

Three summits on abortion care, chaired by the former First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, were also held, and Scottish Government officials and Ms Mackay conducted a programme of general stakeholder engagement, including roundtable events and individual meetings. Stakeholders included:

  • Representatives from churches and faith groups
  • Representatives from those who participate in anti-abortion activities
  • Women’s rights groups
  • Abortion Service Leads
  • Scottish Abortion Care Providers Network
  • Police Scotland
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS)
  • Representatives from COSLA
  • Representatives from Counsels in England which have implemented safe access zones around abortion clinics.

Collectively, the engagement supported policy considerations, and allowed a range of potential solutions to be explored. As with responses to the consultation, it indicated there was very little opportunity to find common ground. Religious organisations and anti-abortion campaigners fundamentally oppose the principle of abortion and disagree on the nature of anti-abortion activities. In contrast pro-choice groups and organisations such as Back Off Scotland and Rape Crisis Scotland maintain that anti-abortion activity is harmful, while service providers – and particularly those who had experienced anti-abortion activity – were of the view that additional protections were needed.


There is only one private provider of abortion care approved by Scottish Ministers which provides a very small number of abortions per year, typically less than 20. Whilst this provider did not respond to Ms Mackay’s consultation, the Scottish Government has met with them to seek their views on the development of the Bill and how it may impact them. The provider noted that they had no experience of protests, but were supportive of the Bill and its aims, noting that some staff members were also employed by the NHS and had been subject to the negative impacts of anti-abortion activity.

Despite the public consultation being open to all groups to respond, no businesses did so. It could be argued that businesses (which are not abortion service providers) operating within the safe access zone could be positively impacted as their business will no longer be at risk of any impacts stemming from public disruption that could be caused by protesters and counter protests; conversely, any business operating just outside the zone might be impacted if protests relocate outside their business and there are increased noise levels or a police presence. As no businesses responded to the consultation, this would suggest that they do not consider that the Bill will significantly impact them.


Email: abortionteam@gov.scot

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