Anti-abortion protests have been taking place at hospitals and clinics in 10 counties 

Anti-abortion protests have been taking place at hospitals and clinics in 10 counties 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he is 'committed' to introducing safe access zones but his Department has not responded to queries submitted by the Irish Examiner more than two weeks ago. Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Anti-abortion protests have taken place across at least 10 counties despite Department of Health claims that there have been "limited" reports of demonstrations.

Research currently being carried out by Maynooth University in collaboration with the Together for Safety Campaign has found that anti-abortion campaigners have targeted GP surgeries and clinics in Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Limerick, Louth, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford, and Wicklow. 

Maternity hospitals also targeted

There have also been protests outside maternity hospitals in Galway, Cork, Drogheda, and Dublin since abortion services were rolled out.

Protests were reported outside Limerick Hospital on 17 days in February and March, when the country was under level 5 lockdown.

Camilla Fitzsimons of NUI Maynooth, who is involved in a questionnaire of healthcare workers to establish the extent of anti-abortion protests nationwide, said she has received reports of demonstrators praying loudly, holding up graphic placards, and distributing leaflets outside healthcare facilities.

Camilla Fitzsimons, who is involved in the survey of healthcare workers, says one GP said they were 'very reluctant' to register on the My Options web portal over the fear that protesters would target their surgery.
Camilla Fitzsimons, who is involved in the survey of healthcare workers, says one GP said they were 'very reluctant' to register on the My Options web portal over the fear that protesters would target their surgery.

"What healthcare workers are saying is that it's unsettling for staff and it's unsettling for patients — that word is used more than once. People also describe it as being upsetting. The thing that we need to bear in mind is that all patients are impacted by this, particularly outside the GP surgery," she said.

She added that one GP who responded to the survey said they were "very reluctant" to register on the 'My Options' web portal over the fear that protesters might gather outside their surgery.

However, she said a small number of respondents raised concerns about the impact safe access zones could have on the right to protest.

Right to protest

"There is an understanding within the healthcare profession of the nuance of this because people do have the right to protest, people's civil liberties are important," she said.

The questionnaire of healthcare workers, which runs until the end of the month, has already received reports from 27 healthcare providers across 10 counties of protests outside their services.

Safe access zone legislation, which bans anti-abortion protests within around 100m of maternity hospitals and clinics, was promised in 2018 in tandem with the introduction of abortion services.

Department cited limited number of protests

However, the Department of Health has said "there has been a limited number of reports of protests or other actions relating to termination of pregnancy". 

"Where problems do arise with protests outside healthcare services, there is existing public order legislation in place to protect people accessing services, staff and local residents."

The spokesperson said the Department has liaised with the gardaí and a notice has been issued to all stations raising awareness about the issue.

"It directed that any protests be monitored, and breaches of existing law dealt with," the department said.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said he is "committed" to introducing safe access zones but his department has not responded to queries submitted by the Irish Examiner more than two weeks ago on the work being carried out to progress this legislation, whether the minister has been in contact with the Attorney General on the matter, or if he has a timeline for the introduction of safe access zones.

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