Abortion: Minister warns of exclusion zones after hospital protests

Maternity hospital street protests ‘sickening’ and ‘anti-democratic’, says Simon Harris

Minister for Health Simon Harris:  “How dare you turn up at the National Maternity Hospital and try to intimidate women.”

Minister for Health Simon Harris: “How dare you turn up at the National Maternity Hospital and try to intimidate women.”

 

Local authorities could be given powers to impose exclusion zones outside maternity hospitals preventing anti-abortion protests, Minister for Health Simon Harris has suggested.

Another option Mr Harris said he was examining was to engage with the Minister for Justice in relation to legislation governing intimidation and harassment.

Mr Harris said he planned to finalise his approach after consulting opposition parties once the Dáil resumed later this month, although he admitted the issue was “not that straightforward”.

While calls for exclusion zones outside health facilities providing abortions were first made over a year ago, the issue has resurfaced following a sizable protest by anti-abortion activists outside the National Maternity Hospital on New Year’s Day.

Mr Harris described the protests as “sickening” and “anti-democratic”. He claimed those involved were “doing a disservice” to people who voted no in the referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment, as well as those on the other side of the debate on abortion.

‘Intimidate and harass’

“What happened yesterday was not a legitimate protest. Very many decent people in our country voted yes in a referendum and very many decent people voted no and it’s absolutely fine and right and proper in a democracy for different people to have different views on social issues. That’s how democracy works.

“What’s not right and not proper is to gather outside a national maternity hospital and attempt to intimidate and harass women, their partners and healthcare stuff turning up to work.”

Mr Harris questioned why the protest had not been mounted at the Dáil, the Department of the Taoiseach or even his own offices nearby.

“Why weren’t they there? If you want to protest against Government policy, off you go, turn up at the Dáil, turn up at the department. How dare you turn up at the National Maternity Hospital and try to intimidate women. We’ve heard from women who miscarried, who were asked on the street: ‘Are you going to murder your child’?

“So this was anti-democratic yesterday and sickening. It was wrong and it did a huge disservice to the many, many people in this country who voted no, who have a completely different view to me, as they’re entitled to do.”

Garda Commissioner Drew Harris has told the Minister he does not believe the force needs extra powers to police protests outside maternity units.

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