Harris to legislate for ‘safe zones’ around abortion services

Minister for Health says he intends to bring forward stand-alone legislation next year

Women protesting outside the Dáil to demand the right to free, safe and legal abortion. Photograph: James Forde

Women protesting outside the Dáil to demand the right to free, safe and legal abortion. Photograph: James Forde

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Minister for Health Simon Harris has pledged to bring forward legislation to provide for so-called exclusion zones around premises where women are receiving abortion care.

The Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy Bill entered the Seanad on Thursday for the final stage of debate before it passes into law.

Mr Harris used his speech in the Seanad to promise that “safe zones” would be introduced.

“I do intend to legislate for safe access zones. I have received a Government decision to do that,” Mr Harris said.

“They’re also known as exclusion zones but they are safe access zones for doctors and so that women can access the health service in a safe manner, and have their access not be impeded.

“I did make a decision after engaging with colleagues to do that in a separate, stand-alone piece of legislation. It will be health legislation, I will bring it forward, I will sponsor it in Cabinet.

“I intend to introduce it in 2019. I think it’s very important that people can go about their work, and access their health services without being in any way obstructed,” he added.

Bacik emotional

Senators debated the Bill that passed through the Dáil on Wednesday night.

Labour Senator Ivana Bacik became emotional as she said that 29 years ago, both she and her colleagues in the Trinity Students’ Union were threatened with prison for giving information about abortion to pregnant women.

She said women were desperate for information on clinics in England, which was hard to get before the internet.

Independent Senator Rónán Mullen described the proposed law as “destructive”.

“Politicians here want to create a notion of a right to choose that completely disregards an innocent, invisible but no-less-human creature.”

Independent Senator David Norris raised concerns over the issue of conscientious objection.

He said the legislation had been rushed. Mr Norris also said there should be dedicated abortion clinics in Ireland as some GPs and pharmacists objected to providing the service.

He said he was “strongly in favour of a woman’s right to choose” but that he also appreciates the issue of conscientious objection.

He also described the three-day waiting period as “daft.”

Mr Harris again addressed the concerns that had been raised around conscientious objection.

“People who conscientiously object do not need to play a role in that but there cannot be a situation where they would obstruct a woman accessing a legal health service or where a woman seeking help, often in a crisis situation, perhaps having been raped, would be shown the door or given the cold shoulder. We need to have a situation where conscientious objection is absolutely respected but not obstruction, and they are different issues,” he said.

The debate in the Seanad continues next week.

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