Sinn Féin Senator Paul Gavan has called on the government to finally enact its long-promised legislation on Safe Access Zones, and to set out a clear timeline that would see it passed into law this year.
The long-promised bill would establish Safe Access Zones around all family planning clinics, maternity hospitals and healthcare facilities in the state 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 one written by the Together for Safety Group, which was introduced by Senator Gavan and has already passed all stages in the Seanad.
Senator Gavan said:
“We have already been waiting five 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. In September 2022, we were told a bill would be introduced no later than March of last year. Here we are in March 2023 and we are still waiting.
“We finally saw the heads of bill published last August. In January, department officials assured us that they were ‘most of the way there’ with finalising the bill.
“We were told that the only outstanding issues to be finalised were around clarifications regarding Garda warnings and delineation of safe access zones. These issues should have been resolved by now.
“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 – one in 10 – by general practitioners to the provision of abortion services.
“I am again seeking assurances that the Bill will deliver in a comprehensive manner, while fully protecting the right to industrial action, ensuring adequate Garda powers and ensuring fully inclusive language.”
Senator Gavan also asked that the Repeal Review Report completed by barrister Marie O’Shea, which has been with Minister Donnelly for almost a month now, be published without further delay.
He added: “There is a growing concern among many that the government is dragging its feet with regard to publication of this crucial report.”