Harris ‘committed’ to ‘safe zones’ where abortions carried out

Minister says existing protections in place for workers under other laws

Minister for Health Simon Harris said patients and service providers should be able to enter a premises without fear of intimidation or harassment, he said. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister for Health Simon Harris said patients and service providers should be able to enter a premises without fear of intimidation or harassment, he said. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

Minister for Health Simon Harris has said he is committed to introducing legislation to ensure safety around premises in which abortion services are provided.

The Minister has promised the new law to establish “safe access zones” following a number of protests outside hospitals providing the services, following the commencement of the new termination laws on January.

“I am absolutely committed to the introduction of legislation to ensure safe access to premises in which termination of pregnancy services may be provided,” Mr Harris said.

The intention of the legislation would be to allow patients, service providers, healthcare staff and members of the public to enter such premises without fear of intimidation or harassment, he said.

That would involve prohibiting or limit protesters from impeding or occupying those zones which staff use to enter and leave premises.

Mr Harris said in advance of any legislative moves, there were already existing protections in place for workers. He said he had confirmed these with Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan.

These include public order legislation which protect workers from assault or obstruction in the course of their duties.

A section of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 provides explicit statutory protection for what are termed “peace officers”, which explicitly covers those working in the provision of medical services in a hospital, including doctors, nurses, psychiatrists and others involved in the provision of treatment and care.

The legislation also covers persons assisting or working under the direction of those providing medical services in a hospital.

The legislation provides for criminal sanctions for offenders.

Another existing law, the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997 contains provisions relating to harassment but that would necessitate the pestering or obstruction to be persistent and ongoing.

Mr Harris said the new abortion services should be a normalised part of the health service. “Unfortunately it carries a risk of protest. Thankfully, there have been few demonstrations but I believe it is important for service users and providers to have that extra reassurance,” he said.

Earlier this month, there were a small number of protests held outside Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital in Drogheda.