Government approves proposed abortion legislation including 'safe zones' around hospitals

Simon Harris cannot bring the bill to the Oireachtas until court challenges to the referendum result have concluded

Government approves proposed abortion legislation including 'safe zones' around hospitals

Simon Harris. Photo: Leah Farrell / RollingNews

Updated 17.00

The Government has approved the legislation which will regulate abortion services in Ireland.

Health Minister Simon Harris received approval for the bill at a Cabinet meeting today.

While the legislation - which will need to be passed by the Oireachtas - is based on the general scheme that was published ahead of May's referendum on the Eighth Amendment, it also contains two new policies.

Under the proposed bill, termination of pregnancy will be provided 'on a universal basis' - meaning cost will not be a barrier for any woman.

It will also create safe access zones around hospitals and doctors' surgeries.

That means protests and posters will not be allowed in areas surrounding the premises where abortion services are being provided, in a bid to protect both patients and staff from intimidation and harassment.

The general scheme already laid out proposals such as abortion without restriction up until 12 weeks, and for abortion under much more limited circumstances later in pregnancy (such as in cases of fatal foetal abnormality).

Speaking this afternoon, Minister Harris said: "I had committed to bringing the Health (Regulation of Termination of Pregnancy) Bill 2018 to Government this week and I have fulfilled that commitment.

"Although my intention was to also introduce this legislation into the Oireachtas before the summer recess that is not now possible due to ongoing court proceedings."

He added that while the bill cannot be brought before the Dáil and Seanad until the legal action is concluded, work is continuing to introduce abortion services in Ireland in January 2019.

Reaction

Both the Abortion Rights Campaign and the National Women's Council of Ireland welcomed today's announcement of universal access and 'safe zones'.

NWCI Director Orla O'Connor said: "Termination services should be publicly-funded, available through the public health system and receive appropriate funding to ensure timely access.  

"Furthermore, safe access zones outside maternity hospitals and primary care centres are necessary to protect women and their healthcare providers.”

She also said the organisation is calling for the legislation to be named Savita’s Law in memory of Savita Halappanavar.

The Pro Life Campaign criticised the proposed legislation, with the campaign's Dr Ruth Cullen saying: "Voters are learning that the Government’s plan all along was for the provision of wide-ranging abortion and not just limited abortion in keeping with how things were spun in advance of the referendum."

The Irish people voted overwhelming to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow the Oireachtas to regulate abortion services, with more than 66% of voters backing the referendum on May 25th.