Govt has responsibility to enact Exclusion Zones legislation
Labour Senator Annie Hoey has called on the Minister for Health to reverse his decision regarding safe access zones at abortion clinics. A key commitment of the Programme for Government, Senator Hoey said the Minister is out of touch with reality if he thinks the current legislation is working well. If Government does not fulfil its commitment to protect women at a vulnerable time, Senator Hoey said she will publish legislation to address this issue in September.
Senator Hoey said:
“It is deeply worrying to read that the Government is rowing back on the firm commitment to provide access to safe abortion services in this country. This has been long promised and was a key commitment in the Programme for Government. This commitment must be implemented, not reversed, as soon as possible to prevent increased distress for women experiencing crisis pregnancy who seek to access legal services.
“Since the passage of the new abortion law in 2019, many of us in opposition have been asking the Minister for Health to take action to protect pregnant people, their partners and staff from intimidation as they enter GP surgeries and hospitals. Exclusion Zones restricting gatherings designed to intimidate and obstruct access to abortion services are already in effect in other countries, including parts of Canada, Australia, and the US.
“Protests outside hospitals and clinics are intimidating for all those seeking to access medical services, for any visitors and for staff seeking access to work. These protests may have the effect of obstructing access to services for pregnant people, many of whom may be in crisis situations.
“The former Minister for Health is still a member of cabinet, and it’s really disappointing to see him standing over the shelving of this legislation. As someone who campaigned to repeal the 8th amendment, I would have expected him to continue to push for safe access for women and their partners. Fine Gael’s decision to stand over this is not good enough.
“We consistently see this Government rowing back on many issues relating to women’s and maternity health. Despite the overwhelming vote for repealing the 8th amendment, currently only 10 out of 19 maternity units in this country offer abortion services and only 10% of GPs. The lack of access to abortion services in certain counties also presents a significant barrier. On top of this, we know that many people continue to travel to access abortion services which is truly extraordinary.
“Repealing the 8th amendment marked a significant step forward for taking a compassionate approach to healthcare in this country. Despite their celebrations at the time, the Government no longer seem interested in ensuring safe access to abortion services for women who need it. Minister Donnelly needs to prioritise this legislation when the Oireachtas returns. If he decides not to, the Labour Party will.
“Legislation providing for access to abortion services is not enough – we also need to ensure that women have safe access and are protected when they seek out abortion services.”