Ministerial Working Group - Abortion Buffer Zones minutes: February 2022

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 23 February 2022.

Attendees and apologies


  • Maree Todd MSP, Minister for Public Health, Women’s Health and Sport (Chair) Ben MacPherson MSP, Minister for Social Security and Local Government
  • Professor Sharon Cameron, NHS Lothian
  • PI Neil Burns, Police Scotland
  • Dr Audrey Brown, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde
  • Rachael Craik, City of Edinburgh Council
  • Elaine Galletly, Glasgow City Council/SOLAR
  • Anil Gupta, CoSLA
  • Cllr Kelly Parry, CoSLA
  • Victoria Curran, Glasgow City Council
  • Sam Tedcastle, Centre for Good Relations
  • Abdul Rahim, Centre for Good Relations
  • David Bell, Scottish Government
  • Rachel Anderson, Scottish Government
  • Sinéad Power, Scottish Government
  • Sam Baker, Scottish Government
  • Zarah Kobbacy, Scottish Government
  • Secretariat, David McIlhinney, Scottish Government


  • Jon Ferrer, City of Edinburgh Council 
  • Kevin McKee, City of Edinburgh Council/SOLAR
  • Keith Brown MSP, Cabinet Secretary for Justice and Veterans
  • PI Norman Towler, Police Scotland

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

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

Ministerial update on Gillian MacKay MSP member’s bill

Ms Todd reported that she had met Gillian Mackay MSP. There was broad agreement between Ms Todd and Ms Mackay about the need to ensure that women accessing abortion clinics/hospitals can do so safely, without fear of harassment.

Ms Todd advised the group that Ms MacKay was in the process of preparing a consultation, and that an initial draft had been shared with her. Ms Todd explained to the group that the draft consultation was quite high level, and that she might suggest that further detail about the approach to buffer zones might be useful. She offered to share the consultation with the group once it had been finalised, and prior to the consultation launch. 

Ms Todd suggested that Ms MacKay should be invited to the next meeting to discuss her proposal and the group was content with this.

The Scottish Government (SG) will approach Ms MacKay to invite her to the next meeting, and confirm she is content for the draft consultation to be shared with the group and the timescales for feedback.

Potential for dialogue - presentation and Q&A from the Centre for Good Relations – Sam Tedcastle, Abdul Rahim

Abdul Rahim and Sam Tedcastle from the Centre for Good Relations gave a short presentation on civic mediation. They explained the different approaches that mediation or dialogue can take, and the importance of engaging with all interested parties, not just those who are directly involved with the conflict itself. It was made clear that any dialogue would only take place after an initial scoping phase was undertaken to identify the key areas of concern and engage with relevant parties.

In discussion, the group noted that it could be difficult to bring the various parties together, given the protests/vigils are organised by a number of different groups and it is not always the same individuals attending. The group also identified that abortion is a highly sensitive subject that provokes strong views, which might make it difficult for common ground to be found. On balance, the group reflected that understanding the issues and perspective from all sides may still be a useful outcome in and of itself.

It was agreed that the SG would explore the option of dialogue further with members of the group and the Centre for Good Relations, potentially looking at trialling scoping in one location first.

Discussion on draft research specification

Ms Todd introduced the discussion on the summary draft specification paper by noting that there was a need to have better evidence of the scale of the protests and their impact. It was noted that this would be a long term project, and the outputs of the research were unlikely to be ready for the introduction of Ms MacKay’s members bill, but may be useful to develop an evidence base which could help to support any future policies.

Sam Baker briefly outlined the scope of the research, including the potential timescales and methodologies. She noted that pre-market engagement had started which would provide valuable insight into the marketplace prior to the launch of the invitation to tender (ITT) process.

The group was content that the research should be commissioned and the SG agreed to provide the group with an update on the progress of the research tender at the next meeting.

Discussion on existing statutory powers

Ms Todd introduced a paper which summarised the existing statutory powers which may potentially be relevant to these types of protests or vigils. It was noted that the list of powers contained within the paper was not exhaustive, and should be used as a starting out point for further discussion. The key aim of the paper was to understand what powers are available, and in what circumstances they could be used, as well as any barriers to using them.  Group members had assisted with compiling the paper.

There was a discussion on needing to be careful that any new legislation does not impact of general rights to protest, but it was noted that there may be a question as to whether there are particular areas where protests were not appropriate, such as around healthcare facilities.

It was agreed that the paper would be useful to inform the group’s thinking about what additional legislative powers may be necessary, and to discuss this with Ms Mackay at the next meeting.

Timing of next meeting and any other business

The next meeting was scheduled for 21 April 2022 at 10:00.

The group was content to invite Gillian Mackay MSP to the next meeting to discuss her proposed member’s bill.

The public interest in the issue of buffer zones was noted by the group. It was agreed that agendas and minutes of the group’s meetings would be published on the SG website.

Back to top