Anti-abortion campaigners must not be allowed to set up pickets outside facilities providing abortion services, the former president of the Irish College of General Practitioners has said.
Mary Favier expressed surprise at weekend reports that the Government has dropped plans to introduce safe access zones outside maternity hospitals and clinics providing abortion services.
Reports suggested that the Department of Health was going to rely on existing public order laws to police any protests outside maternity hospitals or GP practices with no plans to introduce safe access zones.
This would have been a change from 2018, when then minister for health Simon Harris said establishing 100m safe zones around facilities providing abortion services was a priority for Government and promised to fast-track the measures to ensure women and staff were protected from intimidation.
However, current Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly responded to the weekend’s reports by saying officials in his department “continue to work with me to ensure safe access around medical facilities.
“I am fully committed to the introduction of legislation on safe access zones around our healthcare facilities. This commitment is in the Programme for Government.
“It was originally intended to provide for safe access to termination of pregnancy services in the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Act 2018. However, a number of legal issues were identified which necessitated further consideration.”
Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Today show, Dr Favier said safe zones were necessary as the purpose of pickets was to intimidate patients and staff. “It has to stop.”
Abortion is a health care issue and is part of routine health care, she said. Not everybody attending at a general practice or clinic was seeking an abortion.
Dr Favier said she welcomed the “turn around” by the Minister as it was important to move on this issue. She said it was very unfair for protesters to be outside the National Maternity Hospital with tiny white coffins when there were women coming out who had experienced stillbirth. It was “heart breaking” for them.
“I’m not saying that people can’t protest, they can, but in an appropriate place, not where services are being provided.”
Safe zone legislation had been introduced successfully in other countries, she said, it would send “a really important message” that there was support for a legal service. Once the legislation was in place it meant that if protesters turned up at a GP’s surgery they could “pick up the phone” and call the local Garda station who could then act.