LEICESTER, United Kingdom – A move to criminalize “private thoughts” has been made closer by the Scottish Parliament, in a move described as the “world’s most extreme buffer zone law.”

The proposed “safe access zone” includes not only the facility – usually a hospital – in which abortions are performed, but also land within 200 meters (a little over 650 feet) of the edge of the protected premises. The proposed law says the 200 meters may be extended by the Scottish government following an application by the relevant Health Board or health provider.

The Scottish Parliament’s Health, Social Care and Sport Committee has been gathering evidence from individuals and organizations with an interest in the proposal to establish buffer zones, including Bishop John Keenan, Bishop of Paisley, who gave evidence to the committee in March.

The committee has now published its “Stage 1” report, expressing broad support for the proposed law.

“The Committee recognizes the right to protest and private thought as a cornerstone of a free democracy. However, given the clear scope of the current bill, the committee is assured that any extension of ‘safe access zones’ or similar prohibition of vigils or protests would require additional and separate primary legislation and the scrutiny and proportionality assessments that accompany it,” the committee says.

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“It would also be helpful to clarify which people or bodies are responsible for collecting ongoing evidence about the impact of safe access zones on both people accessing abortion services and those engaged in protests and vigils. The Committee agrees with the definition of ‘protected premises’ as set out in the Bill,” the report continues.

The report states that the committee had extensive discussion on the issue of silent prayer and “remains unclear how the intent of those silently praying can be interpreted.”

The committee admits that “it could be difficult for the police to reach a clear decision whether the law has been broken by people standing silently praying, in the absence of any other behavior.”

Spokesperson for Right To Life UK, Catherine Robinson, said if the bill becomes law, an extreme buffer zone law will be introduced in Scotland.

“This legislation goes further than any buffer zone legislation in any other jurisdictions, creating a larger buffer zone than anywhere else in the world and giving the Scottish Government powers to extend these zones without limit,” she said.

“Many women have been helped outside abortion clinics by pro-life volunteers who have provided them with practical support, which made it clear to them that they had another option other than going through with the abortion,” Robinson said.

“The proposed law change would mean that the vital practical support provided by volunteers outside abortion clinics will be removed for women and many more lives would likely be lost to abortion,” she continued.

“This is a truly draconian piece of legislation that reaches into the homes of ordinary people. It creates an offence for being publicly pro-life. It is direct viewpoint discrimination,” Robinson added.

In his evidence on the possibility of policing “thought”, Superintendent Gerry Corrigan of Police Scotland told the committee that the police could not “go down the road of asking people what they are thinking or what their thoughts are,” saying that it makes him feel “really uncomfortable.”

The report will now be shared with a debate and vote in the Scottish Parliament scheduled to take place April 30.

Follow Charles Collins on X: @CharlesinRome