Bishops Denounce Scottish Buffer Zones Dictat

At last! Proof that there is still some true faith and decency in the Church. The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has denounced the ruling of the UK Supreme Court which declared that banning peaceful pro-life vigils and threatening demonstrators with fines and imprisonment is not a violation of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Responding to the decision by the UK Supreme Court regarding “Buffer Zones” around abortion facilities, the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland has urged members of the Scottish Parliament to support “the expression of longstanding rights and the principle of reciprocal toleration”.

The statement from Scotland’s Catholic Bishops describes the court’s decision as “very concerning” and suggests that it “fails to protect basic freedoms of expression and freedom of assembly”.

In a unanimous ruling on the lawfulness of the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) (Northern Ireland) Bill passed by the Stormont Assembly earlier this year, the panel of seven judges said that the law aimed at ending pro-life vigils near abortion centres did not breach the terms of the Human Rights Act and Articles 9, 10 and 11 of the European Convention.

The statement published from Scotland’s Catholic Bishops read:

“The recent decision of the UK Supreme Court on the Northern Ireland buffer zone case is very concerning. It is a decision which fails to protect basic freedoms of expression and freedom of assembly. It will no doubt embolden efforts to criminalise peaceful vigils in Scotland. 

“A proposal has already been put forward by an MSP which would prohibit ‘occupying’ space around abortion facilities and introduces areas of Scotland where prayer would become illegal.   

“Were the Scottish Parliament to endorse such a law, it would erode hard won freedoms and fundamental rights. Criminalising citizens for no more than occupying a specific location with the threat of imprisonment of up to six months for a first offence and up to two years for subsequent offences, would have a chilling effect on freedom of speech and assembly in a country which has long valued both. 

“Silent Peace vigils outside the Trident nuclear submarine base at Faslane have been a regular occurrence for decades and have enjoyed wide support, universally considered to be benign expressions of deeply held convictions. Vigils outside abortion facilities should be afforded the same protection. 

“Evidence of their peaceful nature is seen in the fact that they have not led to any arrests or convictions.

“As Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh points out, ‘many mothers in crisis have felt supported at the last minute by a sensitive offer of practical help to find a way out of their crisis other than by ending the life of their unborn baby, it is perfectly reasonable to want to reach out in compassion to help vulnerable women and to be free to protect the life and well-being of both a mother and her unborn child."

It is outrageous that the Government is even considering jailing peaceful citizens for offering help to women in need. Pro-life vigils have been a lifeline for many women who felt they had no choice but abortion. There is nothing progressive or compassionate about banning vulnerable women from accessing help.