Safe access zones to be implemented outside Irish healthcare facilities offering abortion

Stephen Donnelly has confirmed that a new Bill mandating the provision of safe access zones will be fast-tracked through the Dáil and Seanad.

Together for Safety celebrates legislation that will introduce safe access zones
Image: Courtesy of ARC

Legislation to enforce 100-metre safe access zones outside healthcare facilities carrying out abortions will come into effect by the end of the year. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has finalised the General Scheme of a Bill that will introduce these safety provisions, with the goal of protecting staff and those accessing abortion.

The campaigning of Together for Safety, a Limerick-based organisation that has tirelessly campaigned for safe access zones, has highlighted the importance of these zones and has pushed to bring the issue into the Seanad.

“We are delighted with today’s announcement,” said Yvie Murphy, co-convenor of Together for Safety. “People need to be able to access health care in privacy and dignity and without being harassed or intimidated – Safe Access Zones around health centres have been shown worldwide to be the best and safest way to facilitate this.”

“This year has seen a number of other European countries bring in this safeguard and we are so proud that Ireland will be taking steps to protect people when they’re at their most vulnerable.”

The co-convenor of Together for Safety also celebrated the legislative win: “What’s really inspiring is that this has come about because of the work of a huge number of dedicated people who worked together because we all believe that people should be able to access healthcare in safety and privacy.”

“Barristers, constitutional law experts, doctors, nurses, Trade Unions, Gardaí, human rights and women’s advocacy organisations, abortion rights groups, activists, and TDs, Senators, and Councillors from across the political spectrum have worked tirelessly with us on this. This is proof of the power of dedicated people working together and we’re incredibly proud to be part of it” she said.

Safe access zones were promised to be delivered in tandem with the rollout of reproductive services in 2019 following on from the Repeal vote but have yet to be implemented. The lack of such legislation has impacted people’s ability to access abortion services through coercion and intimidation.

Since 2019 and throughout Covid-19 lockdowns, anti-choice organisations and individuals have been protesting outside of family planning clinics, maternity hospitals and any facilities that provide abortion or information about accessing the procedure.

The Bill comes after new research published by NUI Maynooth has revealed that protests have taken place outside these healthcare facilities in 10 counties during 2021, in Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow.

Current public order legislation does not provide adequate protection against these protesters as many attend clinics with religious props, placards and banners. At present, Irish laws do not extend to these silent protests, allowing them to continue across the country. While Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has stated these public order laws to be satisfactory, they have not protected pregnant people.

Legislation providing for these circumstances is set to be fast-tracked through the Dáil and Seanad, according to the Irish Examiner.

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