Ministerial Working Group – Abortion Buffer Zones minutes: October 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 26 October 2023.

Attendees and apologies

  • Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Chair)
  • Elena Whitham MSP, Minister for Community Safety
  • Professor Sharon Cameron, NHS Lothian
  • Dr Audrey Brown, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Kevin McKee, City of Edinburgh Council/SOLAR
  • Cllr Deena Tissera, Aberdeen City Council
  • Cllr Miranda Radley, Aberdeen City Council
  • Jenni Lawson, Aberdeen City Council
  • Elsa Bevacqua, CoSLA
  • Cllr Maureen Chalmers, CoSLA
  • PI Norman Towler, Police Scotland
  • Claire Hutchison, Police Scotland
  • Harriet Rogerson, Scottish Government
  • Zarah Kobbacy, Scottish Government
  • David Bell, Scottish Government
  • Sinéad Power, Scottish Government
  • Erin McCreadie, Scottish Government
  • Laura McGlynn, Scottish Government
  • Secretariat, David McIlhinney, Scottish Government

In attendance

  • Gillian Mackay MSP, Scottish Green Party


  • Anil Gupta, CoSLA
  • Jon Ferrer, City of Edinburgh Council 
  • Keith Brown MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans
  • Ben MacPherson MSP, Minister for Social Security and Local Government
  • PI Neil Burns, Police Scotland
  • Rachael Craik, City of Edinburgh Council
  • Elaine Galletly, Glasgow City Council/SOLAR
  • Sam Baker, Scottish Government
  • Ross Grant, Scottish Government

Items and actions

Welcome and Introductions

The Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport welcomed attendees to the meeting.

Minute of previous meeting of 23 August 2022

The group approved the minute of the meeting of 23 August 2022 as an accurate reflection of the discussion.

Update on civic mediation scoping exercise

After the update from the Centre for Good Relations at the 23 August 2022 meeting, it was decided that the scoping exercise would be concluded. It was felt that, while stakeholder engagement was important, there was very limited opportunity to deliver successful mediation. 

Evidence gathering discussion, including update following the meeting with local authorities on 29 August 2022

The Scottish Government updated the group on the evidence that had been gathered to inform the development of safe access zones legislation, along with any potential bye-law(s). 

Testimonial evidence had been received from stakeholders and Health Boards. It was noted that the Scottish Government was speaking to Health Boards to determine whether data sharing agreements would be required to gather additional data. 

The research on the prevalence and impact of abortion protests that was commissioned as part of this working group has now commenced. Further updates will be provided in due course.

It was reported that Police Scotland had spoken at the technical meeting in August 2022 noting that Police powers were limited to being reactive, for example dispersing individuals and groups for a limited time. Assistant Chief Constable Williams had sent a letter to the Scottish Government outlining their position, and suggested sharing this with the group. 

Aberdeen City Council noted that their legal services were instructed to report to the full council by December. They were working with NHS Grampian to gather evidence to support this. The Scottish Government indicated that they would be keen to receive any additional evidence. City of Edinburgh Council noted that NHS Lothian had shared a survey of service users in the Chalmers clinic, which the council was analysing at the time of the meeting.

The Westminster legislation (which would cover England and Wales) was reported to be undergoing scrutiny in the House of Lords at present and not yet passed through Parliament. The Scottish Government was monitoring the progress to see if any lessons could be learned from the safe access zones provisions.

Similarly Bournemouth was noted to have passed a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO). The Scottish Government was interested to gather evidence on how the safe access zone would work and consider Bournemouth’s equalities impact assessment. It was noted that the Supreme Court judgment in relation to the Northern Irish Bill on Safe Access Zones had not yet been issued. The Scottish Government advised that the judgment was not at the time of the meeting expected until November 2022 at the earliest.

Ms Todd noted that the Scottish Government is working with Health Boards to explore how abortions between 20-24 weeks’ gestation can be provided as locally as possible. It was noted that all mainland Health Boards were now offering a service up to 20 weeks’ gestation.

Update on Safe Access Zones Member’s Bill and next steps

Gillian Mackay MSP noted that she had accepted the Scottish Government’s offer of support for development of her Member’s Bill. She welcomed the institutional expertise and indicated that meetings on how to work together had been very productive.

Ms Mackay’s consultation on safe access zones closed on 11 August, with over 12000 responses received. Ms Mackay reported that her team were currently working on redacting responses for publication, and planned to begin analysis once this work had been completed.

The group noted that progress on development of the Bill was still being made whilst awaiting the Supreme Court judgment. The Scottish Government noted that it aimed to be able to work to allow Ms Mackay to introduce the bill as soon as possible to the Scottish Parliament.

Timing of next meeting and any other business

The next meeting of the group was due to be scheduled for January 2023.

There was no other business.

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