Legislation banning anti-abortion protests outside facilities to come into effect

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Anti-abortion protests will be banned outside maternity hospitals and clinics offering pregnancy termination services under new laws due to come into effect later this year.

Protesters will not be allowed to congregate within 100 yards of specified health facilities where layoffs are being carried out under the legislation, which will now be expedited by the Dáil and Seanad.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has finalized the blueprint for a bill to introduce safe access areas to protect women and staff from intimidation when entering healthcare facilities who provide abortion care.

A government source confirmed that party leaders had recently been briefed on the measures and that a memo was circulated to Cabinet ministers last night detailing the general outline of the bill.

As part of the drafting of the bill, a senior lawyer was assigned to review it from a constitutional and human rights perspective. The Office of the Attorney General was also consulted, as was the Ministry of Justice.

Secure access areas

It was initially promised that safe access zones would be introduced alongside the rollout of abortion services in January 2019, but legal and constitutional difficulties have been raised.

Garda Commission Drew Harris has also previously said existing public order legislation is adequate.

However, campaigners had called for the immediate introduction of safe access zones, saying current laws do not cover silent protests that have taken place outside GP surgeries and other healthcare facilities.

The Irish Examiner previously reported that in 2019 senior HSE officials also raised concerns with the gardaí that the lack of safe access areas was influencing the willingness of some GPs to register to provide the service.

Under the new laws, engaging in behavior intended to exert moral suasion on such a person or which could reasonably be expected to exert moral suasion is included – and not just intimidating behavior, harassing or blocking access.

The legislation is now expected to be prioritized in the fall semester and it is hoped that it will be enacted this year.

Protest Research

It comes as new research published by NUI Maynooth found protests took place outside doctors’ surgeries, hospitals and other healthcare facilities in 10 counties in 2021 – Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow.

The report, authored by Dr Camilla Fitzsimons, found the most common form of protest reported was silent street rallies, using props such as white crosses, followed by reports of people displaying posters and placards – often with graphic images of fetuses.

“Since January 2019, there have been frequent media reports of such protests across the country. National and international research has found that these protests are intimidating and upsetting to service use and even constitute a form of gender-based harassment. They can deter physicians from becoming service providers, Dr. Fitzsimons wrote.

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