New laws to introduce safe access zones around facilities that provide abortion services have been referred to the Oireachtas health committee for scrutiny.
The legislation, which will ban protests outside hospitals, GP practices, and other healthcare facilities that provide access to terminations, was brought forward to Cabinet by Health Minister Stephen Donnelly before the summer break.
Mr Donnelly has now written to the health committee asking that members carry out pre-legislative scrutiny on the bill to allow it to pass through the Houses as quickly as possible.
The minister has previously indicated that he wants to see the legislation enacted before the end of the year.
“We have evidence from around the country, from particular hospitals in particular parts of the country, of women being intimidated when they are looking to seek access to services and indeed clinicians who are subject to protest, which is simply not appropriate,” Mr Donnelly said when he recently brought the bill to Cabinet.
Campaigners have also highlighted the fact that some GPs have decided not to provide abortion services over fears of protests outside their practices.
It had been initially intended that safe access zones would be introduced in tandem with the rollout of abortion services in 2019. However, the measure was delayed due to legal concerns and other issues.
Under the proposed laws, conduct that intentionally or reasonably influences the decision of a person either availing of or providing termination services will be banned within the zones.
This includes interfering with any service provider, or any person accessing abortion services or blocking access to healthcare premises.
It also includes any behaviour that communicates in such a way as to deter or dissuade, or attempt to deter or dissuade, a person from accessing termination of pregnancy services.
Under the proposed laws, anti-abortion protesters could be fined or jailed for holding demonstrations within 100m of healthcare facilities that provide termination services.
A range of penalties will be available to the courts where a person is convicted of an offence under the proposed legislation.