Secure Access Zones are coming to Irish healthcare facilities

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Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has won Cabinet approval to legislate the designation of ‘safe access zones’ around healthcare facilities to ensure access to pregnancy termination services.

A formal bill will now be drafted by the Attorney General’s Office in consultation with the Department of Health.

“No one should be harassed, insulted, intimidated or interfered with in any way, or have their decision to access legally available health services subjected to unsolicited attempted influence by strangers,” Donnelly said. in a statement on Wednesday, July 27.

“The Heads of Bill [general scheme of the bill] designate specified healthcare premises and the 100 meters around their perimeter as safe access zones. »

The Department of Health noted that the legislation will provide safe access areas at sites that can provide legal termination of pregnancy services, not just those that do.

“The introduction of safe access zones will protect the freedom of access at the end of services without hindrance as well as the privacy and dignity of women who access health services, as well as service providers and their staff. in the performance of their duties and responsibilities, Donnelly said. said.

He added: “I am committed to getting the bill drafted as soon as possible so that it can be presented to the Oireachtas, and I would appreciate support for this bill when it is presented. .”

Penalties for convicted offenders will range from fines to imprisonment, the Department of Health said, which noted that the legislation will also include certain exceptions, including otherwise legal activities within 100 yards of Oireachtas homes. .

Everyone has the right to be treated with dignity and respect when accessing or providing medical care. The government has just approved the Heads of Bill detailing how we plan to legislate for the designation of safe access areas that will protect access to pregnancy termination services. pic.twitter.com/qRJFVD3DsA

— Stephen Donnelly (@DonnellyStephen) July 27, 2022

In an article for The Journal on Wednesday, Donnelly wrote: “Unfortunately we are aware of protests which have taken place outside hospitals and GP surgeries providing pregnancy termination services.

“These protests took various forms. They included placing small white coffins outside the National Maternity Hospital and posting disturbing images elsewhere. Some protests took place outside hospitals, while d Others took place outside GP clinics.

“These protests can cause anxiety and distress to those accessing and providing services. They seek to intimidate and deter women from accessing these services – and our healthcare workers from providing them.”

Stephen Donnelly: Intimidation of women seeking abortion services will soon be illegal https://t.co/MCRSAxkqpZ

— TheJournal.ie (@thejournal_ie) July 27, 2022

The creation of exclusion zones around medical facilities was identified as a priority in the government’s latest program, published in October 2020. They were also recommended in a September 2021 report by the Abortion Rights Campaign .

The real-life experience of someone facing intimidating behavior when accessing abortion in Ireland, due to the lack of safe-access area legislation. #RepealReview #SafeAccessZones pic.twitter.com/2odbYUO6jz

— IE Abortion Rights (@freesafelegal) September 17, 2021

Abortion has only been legal in Ireland since January 2019, after the country voted in May 2018 to repeal the Eighth Amendment. The Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018, which came into force in January 2019, allows termination of pregnancy where there is a risk to life or serious damage to the health of the pregnant woman, including in the event of an emergency; when there is a condition likely to cause the death of the fetus before or within 28 days of birth; and without restriction up to 12 weeks of pregnancy.

Earlier this month, the Department of Health said 4,577 pregnancy terminations were officially reported in Ireland from January 1, 2021 to December 31, 2021. However, the department noted that the figure was likely low and that around 6,700 requests for a second consultation were made during this period.

RTÉ reported this week that the latest figures show 11 out of 19 maternity hospitals in Ireland offer abortion services, as do one in 10 GPs.

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