Harris mulls abortion safety zones after 'intimidating, sickening and anti-democratic' protests

Health Minister Simon Harris has launched a blistering attack on anti-abortion protesters outside the National Maternity Hospital, saying their actions were “intimidating, sickening and anti-democratic.”

Harris mulls abortion safety zones after 'intimidating, sickening and anti-democratic' protests

Health Minister Simon Harris has launched a blistering attack on anti-abortion protesters outside the National Maternity Hospital, saying their actions were “intimidating, sickening and anti-democratic.”

He said he would look again at introducing exclusion zones, but admitted that implementing such a law is not straightforward.

“How dare you?” he said. “How dare you turn up to the National Maternity Hospital and try to intimidate women?

“We’ve heard from women who’d miscarried who were asked on the street: ‘Are you going to murder your child?’ So this was anti-democratic, it was sickening, it was wrong.”

Mr Harris was speaking after about 100 people, some carrying crosses, small coffins, and banners, demonstrated outside Holles St hospital for several hours on New Year’s Day.

Mr Harris said what happened was “not legitimate protest”, and accused those behind the demonstrations of seeking to intimidate and harass women, their families, and the healthcare staff treating them.

“What’s not right and not proper is to gather outside a national maternity hospital and attempts to intimidate and harass women, their partners, and these healthcare staff at turning up to work,” he said.

It struck me that the Dáil is about 300m away from the National Maternity Hospital. The Department of the Taoiseach is about 300m, my department might be 800m or 900m away.

"Why weren’t they there? If you want to protest against government policy, off you go. Turn up at the Dáil, turn up at the departments.”

In relation to the establishment of exclusion zones, Mr Harris said he wants to introduce new laws for them but said it is not a simple process.

“I do want to legislate for exclusion zones,” he said. “It’s not that straightforward, though.

“I’ve obviously met the attorney general on it, and I’ve met with the opposition. I met with the Garda commissioner in relation to this. I’ve actually sent out a survey to healthcare providers who are providing the service as well.”

Mr Harris said there are different ways to give effect to such exclusion zones.

“One way they did in Britain that was subject to a legal challenge was a built-in powers for local authorities in relation to exclusion zones,” he said.

“There’s also the possibility for me to engage with the minister for justice in relation to criminal justice legislation around intimidation and harassment.

“So I intend now, when the Dáil resumes, to meet with the opposition and finalise the approach we’re going to take in that regard.”

Mr Harris also said he wants to make free contraception available to all women and contraception of their choice.

I intend to move forward with legislation in that regard and 2020 with a view to introduce with us in 2021 on a phased basis.

Responding to the protests on Wednesday, Mary Higgins, a maternal fetal medicine specialist of the National Children’s Hospital at Holles St, said it was very upsetting for patients and their families who had to pass the protests.

Dr Higgins said the protesters gathered directly below the postnatal ward. She added that the protests were very troubling and inappropriate and that patients reported finding the chanting and the saying of prayers “very upsetting”.

Defending the protest outside the postnatal ward of the maternity hospital, Luke Silke, spokesman for the Students for Life group, said he would fear any move which would seek to limit legitimate protest and such exclusion zones would see that happening.

Mr Silke said the protestors were seeking to save lives and that he and his group would prefer to be standing outside the hospital offering advice to women.

He added that not all pro-life people were represented by the people who protested outside Holles Street.

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