KATE Forbes has said she wouldn’t change abortion law in Scotland if she becomes SNP leader and first minister.
The Finance Secretary sent an email response to pro-choice group Back Off Scotland after they asked all three leadership candidates for their views on buffer zones, expanded second-trimester access, and decriminalisation.
Forbes said that women should be able to access all healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, free from harassment and harm and pledged to work with Green MSP Gillian Mackay to take forward a Safe Access Zones Bill that “meets this aim”.
However, she stressed the bill must be consistent with the Scottish Government’s obligations under the European Convention of Human Rights (ECHR) before going on to say she would not seek to change abortion law.
Abortion is only legal in the UK if it is signed off by two doctors and carried out under certain circumstances within a particular time limit. The powers of abortion legislation were devolved to Holyrood in 2016, and campaigners have called for the leadership contenders to commit to expanding provision.
Forbes was immediately accused of lying during the Channel 4 debate on Thursday after she said she had replied to Back Off Scotland with the group stating otherwise.
According to the campaigners, Forbes’s team sent over a response just 10 minutes later.
A senior SNP source has suggested Forbes has gone against party policy with her comments. A motion was passed at the SNP conference in October last year that agreed to retain and improve abortion services in an independent Scotland and look at organising an “expert review” of existing legislation.
Lucy Grieve, co-founder of Back Off Scotland, suggested the reply from Forbes shows she would not advance abortion rights or decriminalise it.
She added Forbes makes it “clear” she would allow her faith to influence policy-making.
Grieve said: “Whether Kate made her comments in good faith we will never know. But to us, given how many times we have had to chase a response for the past three weeks, it seems too convenient.
“The main takeaway from this is actually what she wrote in the response itself. That she would not support work to provide better access to abortion care in Scotland, and would not want to take steps to advance our abortion rights.
"She says that her faith won’t influence policy making but this is a very clear example of where it will – and that’s simply not good enough.”
Forbes's campaign said she had signed off on a response but it had not been sent on time in error, adding they had apologised to Back Off Scotland.
The Skye, Lochaber and Badenoch MSP is a member of the Free Church of Scotland and has come under huge pressure after saying she would’ve voted against gay marriage and said she believed having children out of wedlock is "wrong".
In her email to the buffer zone campaigners, Forbes said: “Women should be able to access healthcare, including reproductive healthcare, free from harassment and harm, as should staff and practitioners delivering that care.
“If I am elected first minister, I will work with Gillian Mackay and ensure my government supports her to take forward a bill that meets this aim and is consistent with the Scottish Government’s obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“I agree that healthcare services should be offered as close to home as is feasibly possible. Abortion during the first 24 weeks of pregnancy is a legal right in Scotland and I would not seek to interfere with that right or change abortion law in Scotland.”
A senior party source said Forbes’s latest comments showed she was “incapable” of separating her faith from her role as a legislator and claimed she was “discarding” party policy.
An SNP insider told The National: "Kate insists she won't let her faith influence her politics - but this response shows the exact opposite.
“She has no intention of advancing women's rights on abortion services, despite it being party policy. She's incapable of separating her faith with her role as a legislator and we simply can't afford a Leader who alienates swathes of women voters.
"We need a first minister who not only respects women's rights but advances them and a party Leader who is committed to implementing party policy rather than discarding it because of their religious views."
Forbes’s campaign team have been approached for further comment.