An end in sight: The Safe Access Zone Bill could be law by Christmas

On November 15, the Safe Access Zones Bill passed all stages in the Dáil, now going to the Seanad for consideration.

In June 2023, anti-abortion campaigners held a demonstration outside the University Maternity Hospital Limerick. Groups of more than a dozen walked and prayed around the hospital, holding signs.

Outside another location in Limerick – opposite a family planning clinic – a group of nuns stand every day to give what they call a “prayerful witnessing”.

The same has been repeated across the country, with small white coffins and crosses brought to some locations, alongside distressing pictures and signs.

These demonstrations caused a lot of uneasiness for pregnant women, passers-by, and hospital staff.

Karen Sugrue, Limerick woman and representative of Together for Safety, said: “Ireland does not have abortion clinics – all abortion services are run from GPs, health centres, and hospitals – so when protesters stand outside these places they are indiscriminately causing distress to everyone who passes by.” 

Together for Safety is a lobby group which evolved from the Together for Yes campaign, formed in late 2020. Originally campaigning around the vote to repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, the group re-formed in response to the anti-abortion protest at Limerick Maternity Hospital. The group has spent the past three years lobbying the government.

The Safe Access Zone Bill has been introduced to require a mandatory 100 metre safe passage zone around all family planning clinics, maternity hospitals, and healthcare facilities in Ireland that offer or provide information on abortion.

Demonstrations outside healthcare facilities

Safe Access Zones are fixed areas around health care facilities where anti-choice protesting, intimidating behaviour, and/or communication about abortion would be strictly and legally prohibited.

Together for Safety wrote and submitted a Private Members Bill for safe access zones which had broad support across all parties.

On November 15, the Safe Access Zones Bill passed all stages in the Dáil, now going to the Seanad for consideration.

As of 2018, abortion care is available in Ireland for any reason up to 12 weeks. After 12 weeks, overseas travel is unfortuntely still required.

Although the situation has improved greatly from before, there are still many gaps in the provision of services.

Only one in 10 general practitioners (GPs) offer abortions and only 14 of the 19 hospitals around Ireland provide abortion services. Depending on where you live, local care may not be available.

Abortion is legally available health care in Ireland now and access to health care is a human right. Together for Safety has been criticised, abused, and even sued. Still, they persist and want people to have access to health care with dignity, privacy and safety.

The hope now is that the Safe Access Zone Bill will be law before Christmas.

Limerick Voice will update with information on the Safe Access Zone Bill as it is available.

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