Cabinet to ensure abortion provider exclusion zones

The Cabinet will today sign off on plans to introduce exclusion zones around hospitals to ensure women seeking abortions are not intimidated by protesters as part of post-Eighth Amendment referendum plans.

The point will be made in long-expected legislation published in the wake of May’s national vote, which will mirror the previously published heads of bill allowing for unrestricted access to abortion in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.

The legislation, which will be published this afternoon but will not be discussed by the Oireachtas until the autumn due to ongoing high court cases, is almost identical to the heads of bill published in late spring.

Should it be passed by the Dáil and Seanad later this year, the new law will be introduced by January, formally allowing unrestricted abortion access up to 12 weeks pregnancy and limited access after that stage.

However, Government sources last night confirmed that the legislation also contains two additional points not previously included in the heads of bill.

These involve widely leaked plans to ensure safe access zones around hospitals preventing protesters from interfering with women seeking abortions, and plans to ensure costs do not become a barrier to accessing the service.

The hospital exclusion zone rule will include guarantees that “premises” where abortions are provided will be free of any protesters or campaigners, allowing women and couples “to go without fear of intimidation or harassment” due to their decisions.

It is expected that the legislation will only include one other change to the previously published heads of bill, namely a commitment that cost “cannot be a barrier” to accessing services.

However, Government sources declined to confirm if this means there will be no cost for accessing an abortion or if there will be a small fee charged to women needing the procedure.

This morning’s Cabinet meeting, which is the last before the Dáil’s summer break begins on Thursday, will also see more than 50 other items discussed.

They include a large number of annual reports and a new Criminal Justice (Mutual Recognition) bill which will let Irish prisoners serving time abroad to transfer to Ireland for the remainder of their sentence.

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