The Cabinet approved a law that will pave the way for safe access zones

The Cabinet of Ministers approved a law providing for the creation of safe access zones outside of facilities providing abortion services.

Exclusion Zones will be established within 100 meters of all medical facilities that currently provide or may provide abortion services.

This will include the premises of hospitals, community centers and secondary care centers, including general practitioners.

Health Secretary Stephen Donnelly said he wants the law to be passed this year.

Under the proposed laws, conduct that intentionally or reasonably influences the decision of a person using or providing divorce services would be prohibited in the zones.

This includes interfering with the activities of any service provider or any person accessing abortion services or blocking access to a health facility.

It also includes any behavior that is reported in a way that deters or discourages or attempts to deter or dissuade a person from accessing abortion services.

Under the proposed laws, anti-abortion protesters could be fined or jailed for demonstrating outside medical facilities that provide abortion services.

A range of penalties will be available to the courts if a person is found guilty of an offense under the proposed legislation.

The proposal put forward is a wholly disproportionate response to the risk that a small number of people may become aggressive at some point in the future.Alice Mulroy, Campaign for Choice

Mr Donnelly said he was “delighted” that the government agreed with the heads of the bill.

“No one should be harassed, abused, intimidated or interfered with in any way, and their decision to access legally available healthcare services should not be subjected to unsolicited influence by strangers,” said Mr. Donnelly.

“In the chapters of the bill, certain healthcare facilities and 100 meters along their perimeter are classified as safe access zones.

“Introducing safe access zones will protect the freedom of access to termination of services without impediment, as well as the privacy and dignity of women who seek health care services, as well as service providers and their employees in the performance of their duties and responsibilities.”

Mr Donnelly said: “I look forward to working with my colleagues on the Oireachtas Health Committee to advance the chapters of the bill.

“Introducing secure access legislation is a government priority and I am pleased to have reached this important milestone in the process.

“I want to commend the helpful public discussion of the secure access areas in recent months and, in particular, the work of the Together for Security group in developing legislative proposals.


Health Minister Stephen Donnelly arrives for a Cabinet meeting at Dublin Castle (Brian Lawless/PA)

“I am committed to having the bill drafted as quickly as possible so that it can be presented to the Oireachtas and I would appreciate support for this bill when it is presented.”

Alice Mulroy of the For Life Campaign said the government’s plan to introduce no-go areas sets “a very dangerous precedent for denying the right to freedom of expression and the right to peacefully assemble in public places.”

He added: “The proposed proposal is a completely disproportionate response to the risk that a small number of people may, at some point in the future, begin harassment in the vicinity of an abortion facility.

“No one wants people to be harassed when they go to a hospital or a general practitioner.

“Where such incidents do occur, the authorities already have broad powers to deal with the situation in accordance with existing public order laws.”

She called the proposals “regressive and draconian”.