Safe access zones banning abortion protesters will apply to all eligible health facilities, committee told

Safe access zones, where anti-abortion protesters will be banned, will apply to all eligible health facilities and not just those currently providing termination of pregnancy under proposed legislation, it emerged today.

epartment of Health officials said it was a core tenet of Government policy to mainstream termination of pregnancy within existing healthcare services.

“This was done both to embed the provision of termination of pregnancy into primary, community and acute services, and to ensure that services could be provided to those needing them in relative anonymity,” said Muiris O’Connor, assistant secretary in the Department of Health.

“It would run contrary to this policy to highlight or expose individual providers. Consequently, it was considered necessary to extend the ambit of this legislation to all providers who are eligible to provide the service, not just those who currently do. It is also hoped that this would entice additional practitioners to provide the service, and increase availability and access, “ he told the Oireachtas health committee.

He was addressing issues around the Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services (Safe Access Zones)) Bill 2022.

He said the department would not be in favour of setting up a register of providers.

“There is no doubt that this is a complex piece of legislation seeking as it does to balance a range of competing rights. The minister is committed to developing a constitutionally robust and operationally feasible bill capable of ensuring that termination of pregnancy services can be accessed and provided safely and privately without unwarranted interference or influence.”

He said gardaí had raised a number of operational issues in relation to the general scheme of the Bill.

The first issue raised was the difficulties around the use of curtilage in the demarcation of the zones. This had previously been considered by the Office of the Attorney General as part of the drafting process and it was agreed that curtilage would no longer be used in the definition of safe access zones. The parameters of the zones would now be calculated as being 100m from the entrance of the healthcare facility to a public road or street. It is hoped this will bring increased clarity to the delineation of the zones.

The definition of “public place” had also been revised through the drafting process to mean any place to which the public have access, whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge. From a policy perspective it is also intended to include private property in certain instances, and this is the subject of ongoing engagement with counsel, he added.


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