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Harris accused of letting abortion protest exclusion zones 'fall off the agenda'

The group that staged a protest outside the National Maternity Hospital with three small white coffins plans to return this Saturday.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH Simon Harris has been accused of letting legislation to introduce protest exclusion zones around maternity hospitals fall off the government’s agenda.

Pro-life protesters staged a demonstration with three white child-size coffins outside the National Maternity Hospital last weekend. This group is planning to return this Saturday.

Exclusion zones were not included in the legislation for abortion which was passed last December as the Department of Health said a number of legal issues were identified with proposals during the drafting process.

However, the minister said in February this year that the government aimed to have draft legislation prepared by summer.

He described the recent protest as “grossly insensitive” and said it can not be “tolerated or accepted”. 

The minister said proposals on safe access for women to maternity hospitals have “taken far longer than I expected” but that he hopes to have them “shortly”. He said he wanted to assure women and healthcare staff that there is existing legislation in place to protect them. 

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik has accused the minister of allowing the issue to “fall off the agenda”.

She said women accessing healthcare have now been left to deal with the fallout.

“Nobody should be shamed or judged while entering a GP’s surgery. Nobody should have to see the images and props used by these groups as they leave a maternity hospital,” she said.

“Exclusion zones restricting protests which obstruct access to abortion services are in effect already in other countries, including parts of Canada, Australia, and the US.

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“The law providing for access to abortion services is not enough, we must ensure that women have safe access too.”

Fine Gael Senator Catherine Noone today said she will be seeking exclusion zones “as an absolute priority” in the new Dáil term.

She said the actions of the group outside the National Maternity Hospital “remind us once again of the urgent need” for this legislation, which “should have been passed by now”.

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