October 26, 2022
SAU Report: STUC Roundtable discussion on Abortion Buffer Zones
SAU Executive member Shona Macnaughton recently attended an STUC (Scottish Trade Union Congress) Event 'Abortion Buffer Zone Roundtable'. Here's her report outlining what the event was about.
'Last week I represented SAU at an STUC event: Abortion Buffer Zone Roundtable, with Gillian Mackay MSP. It was a well attended event held online, chaired by Eireann McAuley, Equality Policy officer at STUC. She stated clearly at the start that the discussion would be specifically about the launch of the private members bill on abortion services safe access zones. Trade union reps were invited to hear more about the proposed bill and consider what impact, if any, would safe access/buffer zones have on the future of protesting and industrial action. The discussion was not to be about the morality of abortion provision and Eireann reinforced the fact that the STUC came from a pro-choice position.
I had read the report beforehand, but it was invaluable to hear firsthand from Gillian Mackay. She is a Green MSP and Health Spokesperson for the Scottish Government and speaks from the position that access to healthcare is paramount. She gave an overview of how anti-abortion protests have increased in recent years, particularly at Glasgow Hospital sites and at the Sandyford sexual health service. Service users and staff have been repeatedly harassed, subject to leafleting and so called “silent” prayer vigils (which Gillian was keen to point out were not peaceful but were in fact aggressive occupations of space). Due to the nature of abortion healthcare provision in Scotland, different to England, most services are provided within hospital settings and therefore the anti-abortion protests affect an even wider range of service users of antenatal care. They have become difficult to police due to their repeat nature and of course due to the universal legal right to protest.
This bill proposes a 150m buffer zone around abortion services which would restrict the access of anti-abortion groups specifically. Gillian emphasized repeatedly that they were very conscious of not affecting the right to industrial action within these same sites. The wording of the bill was being carefully considered to make the safe zone apply only to anti-abortion campaigning. Indeed, protests of this type, protesting hospital service closure, would also stand outside of the bill. There was a difficulty explained in the fact that anti-abortion campaigners don’t define themselves as such, and contrary to the perception that they are a few wild extremists, their campaign is clever, adept and well financed, highly orchestrated from American Southern States.
There is a complexity here which was acknowledged; how does this not set a precedent for further restrictions of the right to protest, and trade union rights? It is hoped that because of the strong difference between intention this will be easy to input into the language of the draft legislation. They don’t want to create a loophole; they are highly conscious of avoiding this. Staff at proposed buffer zone sites need to be able to take industrial action if and when they need to.
Up until now, the SAU has not taken part directly in industrial action, but any possible restriction of the right to choose or the right to protest would of course affect many of our members. In the general climate of Roe Vs Wade, it was highly encouraging to hear trade unionists stand up for abortion rights. It is clear that Gillian Mackay and her team are pro trade union activity and are negotiating how they draft the legislation with care. My reservation would be the possibility of an increased police presence around healthcare settings which would not particularly make me feel safer, however this bill seems to deal with the targeting of vulnerable service users in the most considerate way possible and was welcomed by most present.'
Shona Macnaughton is an artist based in Glasgow. Her work has dealt with social reproduction, creativity and public space. She is currently researching among other things the (de)politicisation of female healthcare services. Shona is part of the SAU executive committee, extending the position that the arts should be part of the wider struggle for workers rights and better living conditions.