SNP MSP admits attending anti-abortion protest outside clinic as he says services are seldom 'vital'

By Peter Davidson & Paul Hutcheon

An SNP MSP has claimed abortion services are seldom “essential” or “vital” and insisted some women are coerced into having a termination.

John Mason also described an anti- abortion gathering outside a hospital as a “vigil” and said he was unconvinced by calls for new legislation to protect women.

Pro-choice campaigners are calling for 150 metre ' buffer zones ' - or protest-free areas - around healthcare facilities that provide abortion services across Scotland.

They believe the move is necessary to protect women from harassment by pro-life campaigners near clinics.

Mason, who represents Glasgow Shettleston, was contacted by a constituent asking him to back the buffer zone plan, which is supported by the Back Off Scotland group.

She wrote: “Buffer zones would put a stop to this harassment – moving anti-choice activity away from the clinic and hospital gates and allowing people to access care free from harassment, alarm, and distress.

“Anti-choice groups would still be able to protest outside Holyrood, on the High Street, on the internet – but wouldn’t be able to target individual patients who are trying to access legal, essential services.”

“That is why I am asking you to support the introduction of a new legal provision, based on laws already in place in Canada, Australia, and the Isle of Man, to move these protesters away from the hospital entrance.

“Not to stop protest, but to tell them that harassing people trying to access healthcare is not acceptable.”

In response, Mason wrote that abortion is a “highly controversial and sensitive subject”.

He added: “I have only visited one of these gatherings outside a hospital.

"It was at the QEUH in Glasgow and could not really be described as a protest. It was more like a vigil.

"They stood across a wide road from the hospital entrance and certainly did not approach anyone, harass anyone, or cause alarm or distress. Therefore, I am wondering which sites in Scotland have been causing a problem?”

Mason wrote: “I take your point that abortion services are completely legal, however, I would have thought they are seldom ‘essential’ or ‘vital’.

“You make the point that someone may not have support when they attend a hospital or clinic. However, it may also be the case that this is one of the few opportunities that they realise they have a choice.

“Sadly some women are being coerced by a partner or family to have an abortion when they may not realise they have a choice, e.g. by having the baby and giving him/her up for adoption."

He concluded: “Therefore, overall I am unconvinced we have any great problem in Scotland or need to have new legislation.”

Back off Scotland tweeted: “Really disappointing email to wake up to on a Thursday morning. John Mason, an SNP MSP, stating that he’s attended an anti-choice protest and that abortion services are “seldom essential or vital”.

In the tweet, the group also asked First Minister Nicola Sturgeon if Mason’s response had been “appropriate”.

Labour's Monica Lennon, who asked Sturgeon about buffer zones at FMQs two weeks ago, said: "This is a deeply worrying admission from anti-choice MSP John Mason and must be fully investigated by the SNP.

"Those who gather in this way near clinics are causing distress to women seeking abortion services.

"Nicola Sturgeon cannot look the other way any longer. The Back Off Scotland campaign is asking for urgent legislation on buffer zones around abortion clinics to allow women to access abortion services safely and free from harassment. Ministers must get on with it."

While Scottish Labour's social security spokesperson Pam Duncan-Glancy commented: "Very disappointing indeed.

"Solidarity with all women accessing abortions - I hope that you do not experience intimidation of any sort as you seek your healthcare."

Scottish Labour MSP Monica Lennon hit out at John Mason (Sunday Mail)

Scottish Greens health spokesperson Gillian Mackay said: “It’s long past time John Mason came to recognise that 82 per cent of Scots want to end these ‘vigils’, because most people recognise that women should have a right to access healthcare services without being harassed, intimidated or made to feel like their morals are in question.

"This isn’t a morality issue, it is one of rights, and I would encourage local authorities to use existing by-laws to ensure women have access to services.”

Lib Dem MSP Beatrice Wishart said: "John Mason is wildly out of touch with the people of Scotland. It's really rather scary that someone with views like this is a lawmaker with the power to influence women's healthcare.

"Abortion services have for decades been part of the healthcare system. For years my party and I have backed campaigners calling to set up these buffer zones. Every patient should be able to receive the medical treatment they need without fear of harassment or intimidation."

Scottish Tory MSP Sue Webber said: “John Mason has proven himself again, to be woefully out of touch with modern Scotland, in describing abortion as seldom essential.”

“For an SNP MSP to underestimate the vast importance of access to reproductive healthcare, is simply outrageous.”

“We must ensure that women across Scotland are able to access this vital service free from harassment and judgement.”

SNP MSP Neil Gray tweeted: "I firmly believe in a woman’s right to choose an abortion. I also believe that they should be able to access such a vital service without fear of intimidation, judgement or harassment of any kind. Freedom of speech & right to protest still have lines that should not be crossed."

Speaking to the Record, Mason confirmed the email and said he believed life begins at conception.

The SNP has been contacted.

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