Success! Scottish Parliament votes to implement abortion safe access zones

13 June, 2024

The Scottish Parliament has today passed landmark legislation to establish safe access zones around abortion clinics. The Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill passed with overwhelming support of 118 to one in favour, and is now set to become law. 

This means Safe Access Zones have now been passed in every nation of the UK, a resounding success for the ‘Back Off!’ campaign which Humanists UK helped to launch in 2015.

Humanist Society Scotland has been one of the leading groups campaigning to see this legislation passed and implemented. Humanists UK has welcomed this legislation as a crucial step towards shielding patients and healthcare providers from harassment and intimidation, and calls on the next UK Government to enact legislation to implement similar zones in England and Wales.

What are safe access zones?

Recent years have seen a sharp increase in the size and extent of religious protesters picketing abortion clinics in the UK. Using tactics imported from the United States, these protesters can display graphic images, hurl insults, and call women and clinic staff ‘murderers’ as they approach the building. Women who have attempted to access abortion services have described this as a ‘gauntlet of abuse’.

Safe access zones are an innovation – piloted successfully in parts of the United States, Canada and Australia – to uphold women’s fundamental right to access healthcare. They require the space around abortion clinics to be free to access for all patients. This means protesters have to move their signs and soapboxes down the street, or direct their attention to policymakers, rather than vulnerable women and girls. Those accessing abortion services include women who are victims of domestic violence, rape, and sexual assault.

The story in Scotland

The Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill was introduced by MSP Gillian Mackay of the Scottish Green Party in October 2023 with cross-party support, including from the Scottish Government. It mandates the creation of safe access zones with a perimeter of 200 metres (656ft) from the entrance of sites providing abortion care.

Inside this zone, it will be unlawful for activities aimed at influencing the decisions of a person seeking to access, provide, or facilitate the provision of abortion care to take place. This will include leafleting, displaying graphic images, shouting or chanting slogans, or approaching or following patients and staff. Protestors are still free to hold anti-abortion protests outside the safe access zone.

England, Wales, and Northern Ireland

Northern Ireland was the first part of the UK to implement safe access zones in 2023. The Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Act was first passed in March 2022, but was challenged by the Northern Ireland Attorney General. The UK Supreme Court ruled that the Act did not ‘disproportionately interfere’ with protesters’ rights. 

In England and Wales, legislation was passed to introduce safe access zones in the UK Parliament in March 2023. But the UK Home Office under Home Secretary Suella Braverman chose instead to consult on the matter, despite a clear mandate from Parliament supporting the establishment of such zones. Draft guidance released in January 2024 by then Home Secretary James Cleverly included expansive religious loopholes that would have rendered the legislation incapable of protecting women from abuse and harassment. Parliament was dissolved before any changes could be implemented, so it will fall to the new Government to implement.

Humanists UK is one of the many pro-choice organisations campaigning on safe access zones outside abortion clinics, and calls on the next UK Government to bring England and Wales in line with Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Richy Thompson, Director of Public Affairs and Policy, commented:

‘Today marks a significant victory for reproductive rights and human dignity in Scotland. By establishing safe access zones, the Scottish Parliament has taken a definitive stand against the harassment and intimidation faced by those seeking vital healthcare services.

‘We call on the next UK Government to follow suit, and ensure the same protections for those seeking abortions all across the UK.’


For further comment or information, media should contact Humanists UK Director of Public Affairs and Policy Richy Thompson at or phone 0203 675 0959.

Read more about our campaign work on abortion.

Read the Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill.

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