'Safe access zones' to stop abortion protests
Harris to push through legislation 'in coming weeks'
Health Minister Simon Harris has pledged that safe access zones to prevent anti-abortion protests are a priority - with the bill going to Cabinet in the coming weeks.
Protesters holding placards outside a GP service in Galway earlier this week has been described as "deplorable" by pro-choice campaigners.
A spokeswoman for Mr Harris insisted the Department of Health and Attorney General have been in discussions over the legislation for a number of months.
The spokeswoman added that it will go to Cabinet "in the coming weeks", but no date has yet been set.
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said nobody should be impeded when accessing medical care.
"Accessing a medical service, particularly something like abortion, is a very private, very personal thing and I don't think it's right to protest outside hospitals, to protest outside GPs' clinics in that way," Mr Varadkar said. "There are other ways to protest.
"If you think about somebody going through a crisis pregnancy [they're] going through enough upset and turmoil without having to be exposed to more of it on the way into their GP's surgery.
"It's not a decision that I think any woman takes lightly quite frankly," he added.
Pro-choice campaigner Ailbhe Smyth criticised the protests in Galway and said the legislation needs to pushed through as soon as the Dáil recess is over.
Ms Smyth told the Irish Independent the protests were "not fully unexpected", but said they were "intolerable".
Asked what she thought could be done to prevent such protests in the meantime, she said: "The main thing is simply to appeal to people in the first place and say this is not deemed humane behaviour and stop it."
The spokeswoman for the Health Minister said abortion services should be a normal and lawful part of healthcare for women, but said Mr Harris acknowledged the likelihood of protests taking place.
The legislative proposals will ensure that health services can be accessed without fear of intimidation or harassment.
It will also ensure no unwanted communications, including oral, written or visual displays in relation to services for termination of pregnancy.
"It will also prohibit interfering or communicating with a person in a safe access zone in a way that 'causes distress, and to prohibit capturing and/or distributing images of any person in a safe access zone'," the spokeswoman added.