Hospitals not place for anti-abortion rallies say ministers; Campaigners defend right to peaceful protest

Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is pressing ahead with plans to introduce exclusion zones around maternity hospitals after tweeting that he was “appalled” at new video images of a New Year’s Day protest outside the National Maternity Hospital.

Hospitals not place for anti-abortion rallies say ministers; Campaigners defend right to peaceful protest

Update 10.55am by Vivenne Clarke: Minister of State for Disability Finian McGrath has criticised anti-abortion protesters who demonstrated outside the National Maternity Hospital at Holles Street, Dublin on New Year’s Day.

While he respected the right to protest, outside hospitals was not the place to do that, he told RTÉ radio’s Today with Séan O’Rourke show.

Mr McGrath said he supported calls for the imposition of exclusion zones outside maternity units and said he did not believe that it would be difficult to implement such zones.

On Wednesday about 100 people, some carrying small crosses and banners, demonstrated outside Holles Street hospital for several hours. Obstetrician and hospital staff member Prof Mary Higgins, who posted a video of the protest online, said it took place beneath the windows of a postnatal ward and “in front of people leaving after a miscarriage”.

Mr McGrath said he was very uncomfortable to see the protests outside Holles Street. “The place for such protests is outside Leinster House - not at hospitals.”

He said he supported the right to protest, but not outside hospitals to protect the privacy and feelings of women and families.

I think it was wrong what they did.

In relation to allegations of intimidation, Mr McGrath said if there was any evidence of intimidation then the people involved should be prosecuted.

Earlier: Harris ‘appalled’ by images of hospital protest; Campaigners defend right to peaceful protest

Update 5.40am by Noel Baker: Health Minister Simon Harris has said he is pressing ahead with plans to introduce exclusion zones around maternity hospitals after tweeting that he was “appalled” at new video images of a New Year’s Day protest outside the National Maternity Hospital.

The minister was responding to a tweet posted by Mary Higgins, an obstetrician and maternal fetal medicine specialist, of what appeared to be a crowd of more than two dozen people outside the NMH hospital on Holles St, Dublin.

In the tweet, she tagged Mr Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and said the protesters were “beneath the windows of a postnatal ward, in front if people leaving after a miscarriage, with small coffins, crosses and unsavoury images”.

Mr Harris responded: “Appalled to see. I don’t wonder why we need it at all. Have been engaging with Attorney General, Gardai & service providers about how best to bring it in in a manner that is constitutional etc. Can assure you I am committed to it and will be meeting cross party on it this month”.

Last July, the minister had referred to his desire to have exclusion zones placed around maternity hospitals and was discussing proposals having had discussions with gardaí and the AG.

That also followed a number of protests outside maternity units, with Mr Harris at the time condemning those protests as “insensitive” and stating “there is existing legislation in place to protect them and to protect patients”.

The issue of protests has come to the fore following the May 2018 passing of the referendum to remove the constitutional ban on abortion, and the subsequent introduction of legislation allowing abortion services to provided through GPs, family planning services, maternity units, and hospitals.

Recent figures show more than 12,000 calls in the first 11 months of this last year to the HSE freephone line for people seeking information about unplanned pregnancies.

Meanwhile, anti abortion campaigners have taken to social media to defend the right to peaceful protest.

In a tweet earlier today David Quinn suggested that any legislation to ban such protests would be an 'extreme' measure which is not seen in any other western country.

Others have suggested many of those calling for a ban are being duplicitous having previously participated or supported pro choice rallies and protests at the same locations.

- Additional reporting by Digital Desk

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