Abortion clinic safe access zones urgently needed in Ireland, says human rights watchdog

The establishment of safe zones outside healthcare settings is fundamental to ensure the protection of the staff and of those accessing abortion.

This article is about safe zones outside abortion facilities. In the picture, a doctor holding an ipad and speaking to a patient.
Image: Via Pexels - Thirdman

On October 6, The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission published a submission calling on the Government to legislate “without further delay” on the safe access zones outside abortion care settings.

Earlier today, the Irish Human Rights Commission, an independent body that accounts to the Oireachtas, released its submission on the General Scheme of the Safe Access Zones Bill. The legislation in question was confirmed by Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to establish safe access zones around abortion care providers.

The goal of the bill is to ensure the protection of the staff and of those accessing abortion by enforcing 100-metre zones where anti-abortion activity is banned around any premises or building where termination of pregnancy services are legally provided. The legislation comes after a research published by NUI Maynooth that revealed that anti-abortion protests had taken place outside healthcare facilities in 10 counties in Ireland during 2021.

In their submission, the Commission highlighted that anti-abortion activity outside healthcare facilities can pose a real barrier in accessing termination of pregnancy services, causing delayed appointments and deferred treatments, especially in light of the fact that only 1 in 10 GPs in Ireland provide such care.

“The decision to terminate involves an exercise of core personal autonomy, in a deeply private context. A stranger seeking to interfere with or influence that decision through confrontation is likely to cause tremendous upset at a difficult time,” stated the submission.

Stating that such protests are “likely to be harmful to the wellbeing of women accessing abortion services”, the Commission suggested that “a response that engages the criminal law, as opposed to merely civil remedies like an injunction, is justified since civil measures are not effective to address widespread and repeated protests”.

The submission also stated that it would not be disproportionate to consider a “two-year maximum sentence, for repeat offenders who engage in egregious forms of confrontation.”

“Legislation for safe access zones is necessary to protect the safety and well being of women accessing doctors and health care practitioners providing termination of pregnancy services. It is critical that this legislation is enacted without further delay.” concluded the Commission.

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