THE saying goes that people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do.

Lucy Grieve and Alice Murray, co-founders of campaign group Back Off Scotland, have spent four years fighting to ensure legislation that would protect women accessing abortion care from the intimidation and harassment of protesters was brought forward.

Last week, their persistence paid off with the passing of the Abortion Services Safe Access Zones (Scotland) Bill, spearheaded by Scottish Greens MSP Gillian Mackay.

And it didn’t just sneak through into the statute book. It flew into it with flying colours, attracting 118 votes to 1.

It means anti-abortion protesters will no longer be able to demonstrate within 200m of a facility that delivers abortion services once the law is given royal assent.

“We always knew we were going to change the law, but the fact that the law has actually been changed and voted through ... it’s quite an overwhelming feeling,” said Grieve.

“It’s become so much of our identity over the last four years that in the moment when it passed, we didn’t actually have that big of a response because it was just so overwhelming. The true feelings, I think, will come within a few weeks once things have settled down.

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“We’ve had so many messages since the bill passed and some of the names are people who gave testimonies really early on and saying they have been following this for four years.

“It’s so nice to have those women reaching back out. They were congratulating us but we know we couldn’t have done it without their voices. It’s a very poignant reminder of how far-reaching the stories we were able to collect were.”

Murray - who had to face down protesters at the Chalmers Clinic in Edinburgh in 2019 aged 20 - was delighted not just with the bill passing but the manner in which it did.

The road has not been easy for Grieve and Murray, who had to push hard for national legislation while other avenues were explored including the possibility of council by-laws being used to implement buffer zones.

They always felt anything short of a national law would be insufficient, and Grieve paid tribute to former first minister Nicola Sturgeon who she felt was a “catalyst” behind the Scottish Government getting fully behind the bill when she eventually committed to national legalisation.

Murray said she was heartened by how the vast majority of politicians put aside any personal views they had on abortion and saw the bigger picture.

She said: “It was so nice to have cross-party support and it really highlighted how this is about patients and women.

Green MSP Gillian Mackay Green MSP Gillian Mackay (Image: Scottish Green MSP Gillian Mackay. Image, PA)

“Every time the conversation did go towards the protesters and the other side of it, I think there was always someone in the room who brought it back to patients.

“I think that’s really important and [it was great] to see people recognise, across the political spectrum, that actually women do have a right to access healthcare free of harassment.

“I’m sure there was a lot of people there [in the chamber] who would describe themselves as anti-abortion. So I do think it is positive that a lot of people acknowledged that but actually decided there was a bigger issue here.”

Mackay - who was an intern in the Scottish Parliament a decade ago - has been equally moved by the legislation passing and the high level of debate and consensus that was achieved.

She told the Sunday National: “I'm over the moon that the chamber has come together and voted for this quite so comprehensively. I think it shows that when we want to, and when an issue is serious enough and taken seriously by the whole chamber, we can actually have grown-up conversations and come to points where the vast majority of the chamber can vote for a piece of legislation. 

“I’ve reflected with quite a few people in the last few days that, having come into this place as an intern just about 10 years ago, that 22-year-old would have laughed quite hard at you if you’d suggested that within 10 years not only would she be an MSP, but that she would have passed a bill. 

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“I have always tried to find that common ground across the chamber where I’ve been able to, and it does just show that when we put our differences to one side we can do good things."

While this is a moment to celebrate, the mission to advance and protect women’s reproductive rights in Scotland does not end here.

Many women are still forced to travel to England to get late-stage abortions given all health boards across Scotland can currently only administer abortions up to a 20-week gestation period despite the legal limit for an abortion in the UK being up to 24 weeks. 

Grieve has said Back Off Scotland will continue to push for this to change while also campaigning for abortion to be decriminalised.

She said: “The biggest tangible thing I think that needs to be done for women in Scotland is commissioning services up to the gestational limit.

“We still get contacted by women who have had to travel to England for treatment and it adds a different dimension of trauma. These are people who find out they’re pregnant in very difficult circumstances at more than 20 weeks gestation, and are told they can’t access care here, in big cities like Glasgow. So we need to keep the pressure on with that.

“Further to that, we were able to secure that commitment from Humza Yousaf to look at abortion law reform more broadly. We’ll be involved in that too. Work is going to start on an expert working group and we’re going to be on the advisory group for that in summer.”

The Scottish Government has been approached for comment.