Words: Ellen Kenny
Protestors will not be allowed within 100 metres of the new safe access zones surrounding healthcare facilities.
Fast-tracked legislation will introduce safe access zones for women and staff at abortion facilities.
The zones around healthcare facilities will protect those entering from intimidation and anti-abortion protests.
The legislation introducing the protest ban is being fast-tracked through the Seanad and the Dáil. The government will likely implement the safe access zones by the end of the year.
Together for Safety, the campaign promoting safe access zones, said “It has been a long road but we are incredibly grateful for the cross party, civil society and public support for our campaign which highlighted the urgent need for [safe access zones] and saw our own Bill passed in the Seanad.”
Dr. Jennifer Kavanagh, a law lecturer and member of Together for Safety previously explained that “this Bill does not prevent protest, it just creates space for privacy that’s free from harassment.”
Similar legislation was passed in New South Wales in Australia 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.
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.
The most common form of protest were silent street gatherings outside maternity hospitals and clinics. Protestors typically used props such as a white cross and placards depicting graphic images of a foetus. According to Dr. Camilla Fitzsimmons, these tactics are a form of “gender-based harassment”.
They also carry the risk of deterring GPs from providing abortions, according to Dr. Fitzsimmons. Figures already show that half of Irish counties have fewer than ten GPs who provide the service. Only ten percent of GPs nationally have opted in to provide abortions.
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