Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan has called on the government to swiftly enact its long-promised legislation on Safe Access Zones, and to set out a clear timeline that would see it passed into law by Christmas.
The government Bill would establish Safe Access Zones around all family planning clinics, maternity hospitals and health care facilities in Ireland that provide or give information on abortion.
Anti-choice protesting, intimidating behaviour and communication about abortion would be strictly and legally prohibited within these zones.
The Bill mirrors many aspects of a Bill written by the Together for Safety Group, which was introduced by Senator Gavan and has already passed all stages in the Seanad.
Speaking in the Seanad, Senator Gavan said:
“We have already been waiting four years for this Safe Access Zone Legislation, which was originally promised by former Health Minister Simon Harris.
“It was promised again in the programme for government. A year ago, we were promised a Bill would be introduced no later than March of this year.
“We finally saw the Heads of Bill published in August – now we need to see swift action to ensure speedy passage of this legislation.
“Everybody has the right to access healthcare – including abortion services – in dignity, privacy and safety.
“These protests continue to have a chilling effect, and undoubtedly are linked to the very poor rate of take-up by general practitioners to the provision of abortion services, with only one in 10 GPs currently signed up.”
Senator Gavan also highlighted key concerns articulated by the Together for Safety group with regard to the detail of the Bill with regard to protecting industrial action, empowering Gardaí, and ensuring inclusive language is used.
“These issues were all catered for in the Together for Safety Safe Access Zones Bill, so it was surprising to see these points not covered in the published Heads of Bill.
“I am seeking assurances that the Bill will deliver in a comprehensive manner, whilst fully protecting the right to industrial action, ensuring adequate Garda powers and ensuring fully inclusive language.”