AN SNP MSP has admitted to attending an anti-abortion gathering and claimed termination services are seldom “essential” or “vital”.

John Mason, who represents Glasgow Shettleston, described an anti-abortion gathering outside a hospital as a “vigil” and insisted some women were coerced into having a termination.

It comes as pro-choice campaigners are calling for 150 metre buffer zones, which would be protest free areas, outside of healthcare providers which provide termination services, in response to recent demonstrations outside hospitals.

The SNP manifesto commits to supporting local authorities bringing in bye-laws to create the buffer zones outside of clinics.

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The 40 days for Life group have sporadically stood outside a number of Scottish hospitals, with Mason admitting he attended one at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital (QEUH).

Mason made the admission in an email response to Back Off Scotland, a campaign group for the introduction of buffer zones, after they had asked him to support their cause.

The screenshot of the email, shared on Twitter, from Mason reads: “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?

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

He added: “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.”

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He also claimed he was “unconvinced” of the need for a new buffer zone law, adding: “Breach of the peace is a wide ranging power which the police have and should be able to use in most circumstances.”

Lucy Grieve, the co-founder and director of Back Off Scotland, said: “This is really disturbing.

“First, the Scottish Government abdicate from their responsibility of protecting women accessing abortion services from intimidation and harassment.

“Now, we have evidence that one of their own MSPs has attended an anti-choice protest at QEUH.

The National:

Mason said he attended an anti-abortion 'vigil' at the QUEH in Glasgow 

“The Scottish Government need to take ownership of this issue now, implement buffer zones nationally, and protect women from their legal right to accessing healthcare.”

Scottish Greens health spokesperson Gillian Mackay said: “It’s long past time John Mason came to recognise that 82% 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.”

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.

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"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."

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Beatrice Wishart accused Mr Mason of being “wildly out of touch with the people of Scotland”.

She said: “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.”

Mason confirmed to the Daily Record that he said the email and reportedly said he believes life begins at conception.

The SNP’s 2021 Holyrood manifesto reads: “Abortion is a legal right in Scotland and we will protect this right. We have no plans to restrict existing abortion legislation.

“We are clear that those accessing abortion services should not be targeted for choosing to access this right.

“We will support any local authority who wishes to use their powers to establish bye-laws to create protest-free buffer zones outside clinics that provide abortion services.”

An SNP spokesperson said: "Women accessing abortion services, just like any other health service, should be able to do so without fear of intimidation or targeted harassment. 

“The Scottish Government has already set out its commitment to supporting any local authority which wishes to use bye-laws to establish buffer zones outside clinics which provide abortion services.”