‘Buffer zones pose threat to religious freedom’, pro-lifers warn MSPs

MSPs have been urged not to impose Scotland-wide censorship zones banning silent prayer.

Speaking to the Health, Social Care and Sport Committee last month, pro-lifers warned that the Abortion Services (Safe Access Zones) Bill threatened religious freedom and freedom of thought.

The Bill intends to block any pro-life witness within 200 metres of abortion centres. In February, abortion activists told the Committee they believed outlawing silent prayer would be “extremely beneficial” to society.

Worrying precedent

Revd Stephen Allison said the Free Church of Scotland found the proposed ban on silent prayer deeply concerning, noting “the precedent that it is setting and the question whether it could be extended to other areas”.

He indicated that the Bill was straying into a “difficult area” by “telling people that a certain kind of religious practice is acceptable in one area but not in another”.

Director of March for Life UK Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, who was arrested for silently praying outside an abortion clinic in Birmingham while it was closed, called on Holyrood to “protect freedom of thought and speech” and “promote tolerance as opposed to censorship”.

And Margaret Akers of the Society for the Protection of Unborn Children in Scotland warned the Committee that “criminalising prayer and thought is an alarming precedent to set.”


Alina Dulgheriu explained to the Committee how she was given hope when a pro-life leaflet was handed to her outside a clinic the day she turned up for an abortion.

“I weighed up the two options I had before me and I chose motherhood; I chose to accept help. It was not easy, but without the support of the group who had given me that leaflet, I could not be proud of the life my daughter and I have charted out together.”

She added: “My case is not a one-off: there are hundreds of women, just like me, who have benefited from this support. Yet, we are all too often ignored in the single-minded race to encourage access — without caution — to abortion for vulnerable women.

“Other women who would rather keep their babies than have an abortion will be denied valuable assistance in the planned safe access zone. The law will turn anyone who volunteers advice into a criminal.”

Police discomfort

Appearing before the Committee in February, Superintendent Gerry Corrigan of Police Scotland said the force could not provide an opinion on silent prayer and would only be able to report facts based on a person’s body language.

He said: “I do not think that we could go down the road of asking people what they are thinking or what their thoughts are. That feels really uncomfortable”.

The officer noted that there is already legislation in place if protestors “cross a line of what is acceptable in terms of criminality”.

Also see:


Scotland’s abortion censorship zones are ‘unnecessary’, says RC Church

Kate Forbes: ‘Silent prayer is an important freedom to uphold’

Two arrested for breaching new NI abortion ‘buffer zones’ law

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