THE anti-abortion protests staged by religious activists outside a major Scottish hospital were “unacceptable”, the Health Secretary has said – though he could not give a timetable on when a bill aiming at preventing repeat demonstrations may come before MSPs.

Michael Matheson, who took on the top Cabinet role in the reshuffle that followed Humza Yousaf taking over as First Minister, told The National that the Scottish Government was working in the “quickest and most effective way” to bring in buffer zone legislation.

A member’s bill from Green MSP Gillian Mackay has the backing of the Government, but there is work to be done before it is ready to be brought to parliament, Matheson said.

READ MORE: Green MSP looking to speed up buffer zones bill as abortion protests intensify

Asked about activists’ concerns Scotland may fall behind the rest of the UK if it does not act to bring in no-protest zones around abortion clinics, Matheson said: “We’ve given a very clear commitment to work with Gillian Mackay … we’re working closely with her on the development of the bill. That’s the quickest and most effective way in which to bring forward legislation to address this particular issue.

“I can’t give you a specific timetable just now because of the work that’s ongoing with the bill, and also it’ll be down to parliament to set the timetable for it. But I would hope that we will be able to move as quickly as possible because the scenes we saw at the weekend were unacceptable.”

The Health Secretary went on: “Women should be able to access women’s health services without feeling any sense of intimidation or pressure when doing so. If people are not prepared to realise that what we saw at the weekend was unacceptable, then we will have to take a legislative route in order to provide the protections that women deserve.”

The National:

Matheson said the Government was working to “make sure the bill is framed in such a way that it meets the legal requirements”, noting the UK Supreme Court’s ruling that a Northern Irish bill looking to establish such no-protest zones had been deemed legal.

The SNP minister went on: “But I can’t give you a specific timetable. If I could I would. But I want to underline our very clear commitment to doing this as quickly as we can and to do it in a way that draws as much cross-party support in taking it through parliament.

“Be assured we’re doing everything from our perspective to try and move this process on as quickly as we can within the limitations that we’ve got, because parliament ultimately sets the final timetable.”

The Health Secretary’s comments come after growing calls from activists and opposition MSPs to speed up the process around Mackay’s Proposed Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill.

On Sunday, the 40 Days For Life religious group, an international campaign first founded in Texas, held the last in a line of “vigils” protesting against abortion outside the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. It was attended by more than 100 people, with some holding signs with slogans such as “10 million abortions in the UK” and “Don't be coerced into abortion”.

In the wake of the protests, one NHS doctor urged First Minister Yousaf to act to end the “intimidation” of women looking to access abortion services.