Human rights groups drafting legislation to introduce safe access zones for abortion services

Safe access zones were meant to be introduced in 2019 as part of the legislation which repealed the 8th amendment, but they are yet to be implemented
Human rights groups drafting legislation to introduce safe access zones for abortion services

Health minister Stephen Donnelly did not provide firm timelines for legislation to introduce safe access zones. File Picture: PA Wire

Campaigners and human rights groups are now working to draft legislation to introduce safe access zones around health centres that provide abortion services, in a bid to get laws passed as soon as possible.

It comes after the Department of Health told the Irish Examiner that existing public order laws already cover any problems that arise at protests, adding that there have been "a limited number of reports of protests" which is "an extremely positive development".

However, health minister Stephen Donnelly later said he is "fully committed" to legislating for safe access zones, but did not provide firm timelines, which Green Party members are now calling for.

The Together for Safety group is now working with the Irish Council for Civil Liberties (ICCL) to draft legislation which would implement safe access zones in order to protect women seeking abortion services, but also to stop intimidation of medical staff and others attending health facilities.

"We are all entitled to attend and to access medical services in dignity and indeed in anonymity and protests of that nature do violate that," Together for Safety co-convener, Karen Sugrue said.

We want to find a path which supports people's rights to protest on the one hand, which is extremely important to us, but also upholds pregnant people's right to attend medical appointments without being harassed."

She said it is "desperately disappointing" that safe access zones, which had been promised when abortion services were introduced in early 2019, and which are also committed to in the programme for government, have yet to be introduced.

"It's desperately disappointing, this is not what we were promised, and it is not what we fought for," she said.

However, she said the lack of safe access zones are only one of a number of problems that still exist around abortion services in this country.

"There are so many problems and there are also a lot of the ancillary promises that haven't been delivered upon, for example, free contraceptives and education," she said.

"Those were key parts to the overall programme that we fought for that haven't been progressed either."

Responding to queries from the Irish Examiner about the legislation, a spokesperson for the Department of Health said: "There has been a limited number of reports of protests or other actions relating to termination of pregnancy.

"This is an extremely positive development. It suggests that these services have bedded in relatively smoothly to date and are becoming a normal part of the Irish healthcare system, as intended.

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.

Labour senator Annie Hoey said that she, too, will publish legislation in September on the issue, if the minister does not.

“Legislation providing for access to abortion services is not enough — we also need to ensure that women have safe access and are protected when they seek out abortion services,” she said.

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