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Monday 25 September 2023 Dublin: 15°C
Sam Boal Health Minister Stephen Donnelly
# exclusion zones
Plans to legislate for safe access zones outside abortion providers approved by Government
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly committed to seeing the Bill drafted “as quickly as possible so it can be introduced to the Oireachtas”.

LAST UPDATE | Jul 27th 2022, 12:19 PM

THE CABINET HAS approved plans to legislate for safe access zones around clinics that provide abortion services. 

The heads of the Bill, a general scheme of a Bill before it is finalised, designate a protest exclusion zone around all healthcare facilities, including those that provide abortion services.

In effect, this would introduce 100 metre exclusion zones around all hospitals, GP practices and family planning clinics. It applies to any facility that can provide abortion services, not just ones that currently do so. 

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said this will “protect the freedom to access termination of services without impediment and the privacy and dignity of women accessing health services, as well as the service providers, and their staff”. 

The heads of Bill were developed with support and input from the Departments of Health and Justice, the HSE and gardaí. 

A formal Bill will now be drafted by the Office of the Attorney General and the Department of Health.  

Donnelly said the department also intends to engage with the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, Irish Council for Civil Liberties and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions for observations. 

The minister committed to seeing the Bill drafted “as quickly as possible so it can be introduced to the Oireachtas”. 

Speaking ahead of Cabinet this morning, Donnelly added: “I would love to see this pass through all stages into law and become operational in this calendar year.”

“It’s a very positive move. I will be looking to engage with the Oireachtas health committee on pre-legislative scrutiny. We need to look at the time commitments the health committee can give this,” the minister added. 

Eilís Mulroy, of the anti-abortion Pro-Life Campaign, said the Government’s plan to introduce exclusion zones sets a “very dangerous precedent for denying freedom of expression and the right to peacefully assemble in public areas”.

She described the proposals as “regressive and draconian”.

“The proposal being put forward is a wholly disproportionate response to the risk that a tiny number of people may at some point in the future engage in harassing behaviour close to an abortion facility,” she said. 

“No-one wants to see people harassed when approaching a hospital or GP surgery.

“Were such incidents do occur, the authorities already have wide-ranging powers to deal with the situation under existing public order laws.”

Plans for exclusions zones around medical facilities were originally agreed by all three Government parties in the Programme for Government, with Donnelly saying he was “fully committed” to the plan last September.

Penalties for holding prohibited protests around facilities would start with warnings from Gardaí, with some cases being prosecuted within the District Court.

However, penalties will escalate for repeat offences and serious offences could end up before a judge and jury.

According to a 2020 poll by Amárach Research for RTÉ’s Claire Byrne Live/TheJournal, 77% of people support a ban on protests outside facilities that provide abortion services.

Additional reporting by Orla Dwyer. 

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