- 12 Jul 22
A memo was circulated to Cabinet ministers detailing General Scheme of Bill last night for safe access zones.
Due to the tireless campaigning of the Together for Safety organisation, the government have confirmed that legislation to enforce safe access zones outside facilities carrying out terminations will come into effect by the end of this year.
Together for Safety is a national campaign working for legislation that would enforce 100 metre safe access zones around all family planning clinics, maternity hospitals and healthcare facilities in Ireland who provide or give information on abortion.
Currently and even during the most stringent of Covid-19 lockdowns, people from different anti-choice organisations and anti-choice individuals have been present and protesting outside of maternity hospitals, family planning clinics and GPs surgeries all over the country.
Legislation providing for these circumstances is set to be fast-tracked through the Dáil and Seanad, according to the Irish Examiner.
Health Minister Stephen Donnelly has finalised the General Scheme of a Bill to introduce specified areas to protect people and staff from intimidation when entering healthcare facilities that provide abortion care.
Party leaders have allegedly been briefed on the measures, with a memo was sent to Cabinet ministers detailing General Scheme of Bill yesterday.
Safe access zones were supposed be introduced in parallel with the rollout of reproductive services in January 2019 following the Repeal the 8th referendum, but legal and constitutional difficulties were raised.
Garda Commission Drew Harris previously remarked that existing public order legislation is adequate, but Ireland's current laws do not cover silent protests that have taken place outside GP practices and other healthcare facilities.
We are asking members of the public who have witnessed or been impacted by protesters outside maternity hospitals or family planning clinics anywhere in the country to please let us know.
You can do so anonymously here: https://t.co/YQMIzNE0td#TogetherForSafety pic.twitter.com/yrvYBIwY2D
— Together for Safety (@together_safety) February 24, 2021
Senior HSE officials also raised concerns with the gardaí that the lack of safe access zones was influencing some GPs' willingness to sign up to provide the service.
NUI Maynooth found that protests took place outside GP surgeries, hospitals, and other healthcare facilities in 10 counties in 2021 — Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kildare, Limerick, Roscommon, Tipperary, Waterford and Wicklow.
Speaking at the launch of an action plan for women’s health on March 8th this year, Stephen Donnelly said his hope is that heads of bill will be brought to Cabinet before the Dáil rises for its summer break.
Laws governing the establishment of the zones were promised in the Programme for Government but Donnelly has faced criticism over the extent of progress made.
Numerous TDs and polical figures have praised Together for Safety and Minister Donnelly for fast-tracking the legislation today.
"The introduction of #SafeAccessZones is brilliant news," Neasa Hourigan, Green TD, tweeted. "Thanks to Stephen Donnelly for implementing this part of the programme for government. A huge shout out to Together for Safety and their activists for their strategic and collaborative campaign on this."
The National Women's Council of Ireland and Abortion Rights Ireland also welcomed the news, but Together for Safety made sure to comment that the work isn't done yet.
1) STATEMENT ON THIS MORNING’S @irishexaminer ARTICLE ON POTENTIAL SAFE ACCESS ZONE LEGISLATION BEING INTRODUCED BY @DonnellyStephen:
We are thrilled today at the announcement that Safe Access Zone legislation is to be progressed. It has been a long road but we are incredibly
— Together for Safety (@together_safety) July 12, 2022
"We are thrilled today at the announcement that Safe Access Zone legislation is to be progressed," the campaign tweeted. "It has been a long road but we are incredibly grateful for the cross party, civil society and public support for our campaign which highlighted the urgent need for SAZ and saw our own Bill pass in the Seanad. We will continue to work on this until the legislation is in place and working, but we are celebrating this very positive step today."
775 people have travelled to secure abortion services since 2019, post-Repeal, new data has shown. A review into Ireland's abortion legislation will be published later this year.
Abortion law falls short of people's needs and creates ‘chilling effect’ on clinicians, a HSE report published in the Irish Times on July 12 recently warned. Among the aspects of the law criticised have been the three-day waiting period and the 12-week limit.
Marginalised people such as Travellers and migrants in particular face barriers to abortion care, as well as people with disabilities and the trans community. The North still does not have access to reproductive healthcare, despite Westminster ordering the Health Minister to set up abortion services years ago.
You can view the Safe Access To Termination Of Pregnancy Services Bill 2021 here.