As Doctors Enlist to Provide Access to Ireland’s First Legal Abortion Services, Health Minister Proposes Buffer Zones

More than 200 GPs have registered with Ireland’s national health service to provide abortion services after last year’s passage of the historic Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018, which decriminalized abortion for the first time in the nation’s history, sparked protests outside doctors’ offices, clinics and hospitals by antiabortion groups across Ireland. In response, the minister for health, Simon Harris, announced plans to draft exclusion zone legislation that would prohibit certain activities, such as protests, interference, harassment, photography and videography, in the vicinity of healthcare facilities. The need for these buffer zones became more urgent after an undercover report in The Times Ireland Edition revealed that Sidewalk Advocates for Life, an American antiabortion group, intends to conduct operations in Ireland targeting rape victims and women carrying nonviable fetuses. Minister Harris took to the radio to denounce the efforts of outside groups “to undermine our democratic decision” and to “harass and intimidate Irishwomen,” and reiterated his support for exclusion zone legislation. The report on the American activist groups elicited similar statements from members of the Seanad, who urged Harris to submit the necessary amendments to protect women, practitioners and staff as soon as possible.

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