Anti-abortion protestors could face prison time as Cabinet approves new legislation 2 months ago

Anti-abortion protestors could face prison time as Cabinet approves new legislation

Safe access zones are set to be established.

Anti-abortion protestors could face fines and prison time as part of plans being brought forward at Government level.

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Speaking on Wednesday (27 July), Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly noted that he has secured Cabinet approval to legislate for the designation of safe access zones around healthcare premises to safeguard access to people seeking termination of pregnancy services.

Per the legislation, anyone found guilty of impeding, interfering with, harassing, intimidating or threatening any person entering or exiting a relevant designated premises "shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding €3,000 or a term of imprisonment not exceeding one year or both on on indictment to a fine not exceeding €5,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years".

A 100m buffer zone will be introduced outside healthcare settings, with the new measures likely to come into operation by the end of 2022. The safety zones are designed to prevent protestors from deterring people from accessing abortion.

The buffer zone would prevent protestors from influencing and harassing people seeking abortion services. This includes silent protests and people holding signs outside abortion clinics.

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"I am delighted that Government has agreed to these heads of bill," said Minister Donnelly. "Nobody should be harassed, insulted, intimidated or interfered with in any way, or have their decision to access lawfully available healthcare services subject to attempted unsolicited influence by strangers.”

"The heads of bill designate specified healthcare premises and 100m surrounding their perimeter as safe access zones. The introduction of safe access zones 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 in the course of their duties and responsibilities.”

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Conduct which intentionally or reasonably would have the effect of influencing the decision of a person in relation to availing of, or providing, termination of pregnancy services, or interfering with a person’s access to or provision of termination of pregnancy services will be prohibited in the safe access zones.

Such conduct will include, but is not limited to:

  • Interfering, or attempting to interfere, by any means, with any service provider, any person accessing or attempting to access the services of a healthcare provider or any person accompanying a person who is accessing or attempting to access the services of a healthcare provider;
  • Blocking access or attempting to block access to a healthcare premises;
  • Communicating in such a way as to deter or dissuade, or attempt to deter or dissuade, a person from accessing termination of pregnancy services;
  • Communicating in such a way as to persuade, or attempt to persuade, a person to avail of termination of pregnancy services;
  • Communicating in such a way as to deter or dissuade, or attempt to deter or dissuade, a healthcare provider from providing termination of pregnancy services;
  • Engaging in conduct which is intended to, or could reasonably be expected to, exert moral pressure on a person in relation to termination of pregnancy services;
  • Intimidating or harassing, or attempting to intimidate or harass, any service provider, any person accessing or attempting to access the services of a healthcare provider or any person accompanying a person who is accessing or attempting to access the services of a healthcare provider;
  • Displaying or distributing, or attempting to distribute, any text, or images intended to, or which could reasonably be considered likely to, influence a person’s decision to access termination of pregnancy services;
  • Displaying or distributing, or attempting to distribute, any text, or images intended to, or which could reasonably be considered likely to, influence a healthcare provider’s decision to provide termination of pregnancy services;
  • Displaying any item, whether symbolic or otherwise, with the intended or likely effect of influencing a person’s decision to access termination of pregnancy services;
  • Displaying any item, whether symbolic or otherwise, with the intended or likely effect of influencing a healthcare provider’s decision to provide termination of pregnancy services;
  • Playing or using amplified music, voice or audio recordings or visual recordings relating directly or indirectly to termination of pregnancy or a foetus or both;
  • Photographing or recording by any means a healthcare provider, person or persons providing services or assisting in the provision of services by a healthcare provider, any person accessing or attempting to access the services of a healthcare provider or any person accompanying a person who is accessing or attempting to access the services of a healthcare provider without the person’s consent;
  • Offering, or attempting to offer, in any unsolicited way, counselling in respect of termination of pregnancy or pregnancy or both to any person accessing, or attempting to access, the services of a healthcare provider or to any person accompanying a person who is accessing, or attempting to access, the services of a healthcare provider, or both.
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"I am looking forward to working with my colleagues on the Oireachtas Committee on Health to progress the heads of bill," Minister Donnelly added.

"Introducing safe access legislation is a Government priority and I am pleased to have reached this important milestone in the process. I wish to acknowledge the helpful public discussion on safe access zones over recent months, and in particular the work of the Together for Safety group in informing the development of legislative proposals”.

“I am committed to seeing the Bill drafted as quickly as possible so it can be introduced to the Oireachtas, and I would appreciate support for that Bill when it is introduced."

Featured Imagery via Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie