AN Australian MP who introduced abortion clinic buffer zone legislation in her state has welcomed plans to further protect patients in Scotland, but warned it will not be simple.

Fiona Patten lodged a bill with the Parliament of Victoria in 2015 to get safe access zones around clinics amid a concerning rise in intimidating anti-choice demonstrations.

The legislation passed in 2016 and it is now illegal for anti-abortion protests to be held within 150 metres of a clinic in the state.

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Patten said the journey to get to that point was not easy and she visited the Scottish Parliament last week to meet with women’s health minister Maree Todd and share her experience of getting the law in place.

“While we had overwhelming support from the community, human rights organisations and medical organisations, there was this significant religious opposition trying to use secular arguments of free speech,” Patten said.

“The debate in our Parliament went on until about 4am. It passed overwhelmingly, blue lines were drawn 150m from clinic entrances, but there was a woman who challenged the laws.

“She stood outside one of the clinics protesting and she was arrested and charged, but that case was pursued to the High Court of Australia.

“They argued political free speech which is protected by our constitution.

“The High Court squashed the appeal. No one was silencing people of those opinions – they were just saying there’s certain places you can’t congregate and express those opinions.

“I have no doubt the law in Scotland [if it is brought in] will be challenged as well because abortion brings out extraordinary passion among people.”

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The Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill was similarly introduced by Green MSP Gillian Mackay in May and the Scottish Government agreed at a summit last week that legislation should be progressed.

In the meantime, it is looking at shorter-term options to protect patients seeking terminations, following a rise in concerning protests outside clinics in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

One of those is investigating whether councils can use bylaws to establish safe access zones, but Patten has warned this proved problematic in Victoria.

She said: “We were one of the first states to introduce it [buffer zones] in Australia and it started as byelaws at local government [level] but they were defeated in court.

“It was found they didn’t have the powers and I hope the Scottish Government does learn from the experience of Victoria.

“And in fact this should be part of our national laws. There should be a clear position by our parliaments that abortion is legal and those that seek one must be protected.”

Challenges aside, Patten has said safe access zones have had a “profound impact” on patients and staff and she insists it was a move that was long overdue.

“It was an oversight of many of our parliaments that when we legalised abortion we did not introduce these protections at that time, so I think this is about finalising what should have been done many years ago,” said Patten.

“We welcome the move in Scotland. It has had a profound impact on the patients and staff of those clinics.”

The Scottish Government has said the legal framework governing local government powers in Scotland is different to that in Victoria.

A spokesperson said: “It has been helpful to learn from the experiences in other jurisdictions despite the differences in law. We therefore continue to encourage local authorities to use byelaws to establish safe zones and are committed to continuing to work with Cosla and local authorities to make progress.”