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'Fear and disappointment': Pro-choice groups pen letter of frustration to Health Minister over rural abortion services

Rural service provision for abortions is currently sparse, the groups say, with no GPs signed up to the service in some counties.

1 Graffitti_90564451 Graffiti sprayed on medical centre in Co Longford. Source: Joe Flaherty Twiter

THIRTY FIVE PRO-choice groups have written to Minister for Health Simon Harris criticising limited rural abortion services and a lack of safe access zones. 

In a open letter, signatories expressed their “fear and disappointment that some people are being left behind by the new abortion legislation”. 

Rural service provision for abortions is currently sparse, the letter states. No GPs have signed up to services in some counties while, in others, GPs only provide care to their current patients, it says. 

Due to limited public transport links in rural areas people are travelling long distances to access service, the letters notes. Those seeking abortions services are also often referred to larger hospitals further away. 

“This is not what we marched for and it is not what we voted for,” the letter states. “People deserve timely abortion care that reflects evidence-based clinical practice, where they live.”

The letter goes on to criticise a lack of safe access zones in Ireland. Since the introduction of abortion services on 1 January, there have been a number of protests outside GP clinics and hospitals around Ireland. 

These protests are “undoubtedly discouraging other doctors from signing up to provide abortion care,” the letter states. 

It was reported yesterday that gardaí are investigating a report of criminal damage to a medical centre in Co Longford after the centre was spray painted with anti-abortion graffiti overnight.

The graffiti on the front of the premise – critical of the media, doctors, and the Government’s abortion policy – has been described as “very disturbing” by local Fianna Fáil representative Joe Flaherty. 

Earlier this month, anti-abortion campaigners protested for a second time this year outside Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda, Co Louth. 

Speaking yesterday afternoon, Minister for Health Simon Harris said that 247 GPs have signed up to provide abortion services in Ireland with 10 hospitals now offering services.

The government aims to have draft exclusion zone legislation prepared by this summer, said Harris. 

These zones will prevent women from being subjected to unwanted communications and visual displays when accessing abortion services. 

The proposed legislation will also prohibit the photography of anyone in a safe zone accessing the services. 

Capture Open letter from 35 pro-choice groups.

In a statement yesterday, the Pro-Life Campaign reiterated its opposition to exclusion zones and described the introduction of these zones as “a disproportionate response to any risks that may exist.”

“If individuals on either side of the debate were to engage in intimidating or harassing behaviour outside abortion facilities, existing legislation is robust enough to deal with any such situation,” the group has said. 

In their open letter, the various Pro-Choice groups have also criticised the mandatory three-day waiting period required for an abortion. This “is a significant barrier for rural pregnant people who already have to travel long distances to access care,” the letter states. 

“It’s also likely that the waiting period will push some people beyond the gestational time limit for accessing an abortion,” say the groups, who have also criticised the €450 payable by women from Northern Ireland seeking access to abortion services in the Republic. 

This €450 fee prompted members of Tipperary for Choice to pen the open letter to Harris, says spokesperson Sinéad Magner. 

“There was a massive response. Every group who is active on the island put their name to it,” says Magner, who argues that safe access zones are crucial, particularly for rural abortion service providers. “If you have one provider in one county then they could become a target.”

The open letter concludes by saying that “the end goal of the campaign to repeal the Eighth Amendment was not to introduce abortion care for a select few”. 

The HSE did not respond to queries relating to the level of abortion service provision nationwide, the affect on women in rural areas nor the continued lack of safe access zones as a barrier. 

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