The Government has approved the text of a bill that would introduce ‘safe-access zones’ around healthcare premises providing services linked to the termination of pregnancy.
The Cabinet had approved the initial proposal to legislate on the issue last July, and the Joint Oireachtas Committee published its report on pre-legislative scrutiny (PLS) last month.
The Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services) (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2023 will now be published, after officials from the Department of Health worked with the Office of the Attorney General and other stakeholders to draft the text.
The legislation will create zones of 100 metres from an entrance or exit to a premises where obstetricians, gynaecologists and general practitioners provide services.
This will include consulting rooms, family-planning clinics and women’s health clinics. Safe-access zones will also apply to hospitals that provide acute in-patient services within the meaning of section 51 of the Health Act 1970.
Within those zones, attempting to impede access or influence decisions in relation to termination-of-pregnancy services will be prohibited.
"Nobody should be harassed, insulted or intimidated in any way, or have their decision to access lawfully available healthcare services subject to attempted unsolicited influence by strangers,” said Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly (pictured).
The minister plans to bring the bill to the Oireachtas “as soon as possible”, according to the Department of Health.
PLC expresses concern
The Pro-Life Campaign (PLC) has criticised the move, saying that the legislation “would undoubtedly undermine fundamental rights of expression”.
“This bill is not simply about preventing ‘protests’, but could criminalise conversations between family members,” said spokesperson Eilís Mulroy.
“A consequence of the Government’s proposed law could be to proscribe events such as the annual March for Life, which inadvertently passes within the arbitrary 100-metre zones of several GP clinics in a compact city like Dublin,” she added.