Words: Ellen Kenny
Anti-abortion protestors will not be allowed within 100 metres of the new safe access zones surrounding healthcare facilities.
The Government passed legislation today approving the introduction of safe access zones (SAZ). This will ban pro-life activists from protesting outside clinics and maternity hospitals.
A safe access zone is a form of legal protection for anyone accessing an abortion. It is a designated parameter around facilities where anti-abortion picketers cannot demonstrate or communicate with patients. It also prevents protestors from communicating with staff of clinics and maternity hospitals.
These zones around healthcare facilities will protect those entering from intimidation and anti-abortion protests. These zones will be implemented by the end of the year, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has guaranteed.
Following the Government’s approval, Donnelly said, “Everyone has a right to be treated with dignity and respect when accessing, or providing, medical care.”
“Unfortunately, demonstrations have taken place outside hospitals and GP practices providing termination of pregnancy services. These demonstrations seek to intimidate/deter women from accessing these services – and our healthcare workers from providing them.”
Donnelly also said that the safe access zones “will protect the freedom to access termination of services without impediment and the privacy and dignity of women accessing health services.”
Before the Cabinet meeting, Donnelly also promised “I would love to see this pass through all stages into law and become operational in this calendar year.”
New South Wales in Australia passed also passed similar legislation in 2018.
The government initially promised safe access zones in January 2019, but officials raised constitutional concerns. Garda Commissioner Drew Harris defended current public order legislation allowing “free speech”.
However, new research from NUI Maynooth studied anti-abortion protests across ten counties and showed the “intimidatory and upsetting” tactics used against women seeking an abortion.
Protestors typically used props such as a white cross and placards depicting graphic images of a foetus. According to Dr. Camilla Fitzsimons, these tactics are a form of “gender-based harassment”.
This new legislation will protect patients and staff from this harassment. It may also increase the number of GPs who offering abortion services. Previously, Dr. Fitzsimons explained that protests carry the risk of deterring GPs from providing abortions. Only ten percent of GPs nationally have opted in to provide abortions.
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