Clinic safe zones expected to be agreed next month

Safe zones for people accessing abortion services at GP offices or hospitals are expected to be agreed by the Government next month.

Penalties, including fines, could be applied to people who breach exclusion zone regulations, which are designed to prevent the harassment of patients or staff outside certain facilities.

There were concerns the new laws would restrict free speech. 

However, the Irish Examiner understands agreement on the new safe-zone rules will be completed by next month.

Health Minister Simon Harris confirmed the Attorney General was finalising the new regulations. His spokeswoman said this could be as early as next month. 

Breaches of the exclusion zone regulations could result in fines or penalties, but this is still to be finalised.

In a Dáil written answer to Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly, Mr Harris last week said: “Officials in my Department are working with the Office of the Attorney General on this legislation, with the intention of having legislative proposals drafted by the summer.”

The regulations were promised after the legalisation of abortion following last year’s historic repeal of the Eighth Amendment. 

Under the proposals, zones would provide safe areas around facilities where services, including abortion, are provided. 

These would ban protests or the intimidation of staff or patients using hospitals or clinics.

Anti-abortion activists protested outside facilities earlier this year, including the National Maternity Hospital, in Dublin, and Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, in Drogheda. 

Protestors also picketed a GP in Galway.

The National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) wants the legislation to take account of certain types of behaviour, such as spraying graffiti or displaying graphic images. 

Monitoring of employees going in and out of facilities must also be prevented, said the NWCI.

London authorities issued an exclusion zone around a clinic last year, with fines of up to £1,000 for breaches.

The Irish College of General Practitioners has called for safe access for patients visiting doctors and backed a motion at a meeting earlier this month.

The HSE will not release a breakdown of which GPs provide abortion services, in case facilities become targets for protestors.

Ms O’Reilly said she was cautious about plans for the zones being delayed again.

“Minister Harris had promised that this legislation would be fast-tracked, but it’s May and there is no evidence that this is a priority for this government,” said Ms O’Reilly.

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