Cost or geography will not be a barrier to accessing abortion

Cost or geographic location will not be a barrier to women accessing abortion services, Health Minister, Simon Harris has said.

Orla O'Connor: Services should be publically funded.

The director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O’Connor said cost could not prevent a woman from accessing abortion.

Ms O’Connor was speaking at the NWCI’s conference — Women Making History. The event, held in Dublin yesterday, was opened by Mr Harris.

“Services should be publicly-funded and available through our public health system, with appropriate funding,” Ms O’Connor said.

She said recent reports of possible costs to women for the service of up to €300 were prohibitive and would mean that women would continue to use medication ordered online.

Mr Harris stressed there would be no barrier to any woman in terms of cost, when he spoke to reporters at the conference.

“I want to be able to provide termination services that are part of the public health service and I will make sure that there is no barrier to access, be that in terms of affordability or be it in terms of geography,” said Mr Harris.

If they were going to introduce a system that resulted in a woman still having to travel that would be going against what the people of Ireland wanted.

“I think that would be a failure on our part and I am determined that it doesn’t happen,” he said.

Mr Harris said both he and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar had been very clear that they wanted to introduce abortion services in Ireland from next January and that remained the position.

He said there was a huge body of work underway and the legislation that was part of that would be published in July, as was the original plan.

However, there were other issues such as clinical guidelines and making sure that the new medications were regulated, he said.

“So all of that work is going on in the background and I am very happy that good progress is being made,” said Mr Harris.

Ms O’Connor said the legislation must include a provision to guarantee entitlement to timely access to services and to ensure that women who sought abortion were not discriminated against on any grounds.

“This will require explicit guidance on how to ensure timely access for disadvantaged women, including migrant women, women experiencing intimate partner violence, and women with disabilities,” she said.

Ms O’Connor said a major and distressing feature of the recent campaign was the graphic images prominently displayed outside maternity hospitals and this had continued post-referendum.

“We need to be clear that women and their healthcare providers should not have to walk past anti-abortion campaigners waving placards with graphic imagery and handing out leaflets with fake or misleading medical information,” she said.

“Exclusion zones outside maternity hospitals and primary care centres are necessary to prevent protesters harassing women. This is a proportionate action to prevent the privacy and dignity of women accessing healthcare.”

Mr Harris said it was “regrettable” that a law was needed in Ireland to make sure that women attending maternity hospitals and the staff working there did not have to be subjected to offensive images.

He was “really taken aback” earlier this week when women attending the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin were warned to be careful because of a protest near the building.

“Yes, I do want to see exclusion zones,” said Mr Harris. “I have asked the attorney general and my department on how best to do that.”

He said the exclusion zones would underline the “absolute right” of pregnant women to seek healthcare and for healthcare professionals to provide it.

“We have seen a lot of countries that have had to grapple with this and Ireland will learn from best international practice,” he said.

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