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Irish Government introduces Bill to make offers of help outside abortion clinics illegal

The Irish Government has introduced a Bill that would introduce fines and prison sentences for people who pray, hold signs or try to influence or persuade women not to have abortions outside abortion clinics.

The censorship zones would prohibit the expression of pro-life views within 100m of medical facilities able to provide abortions.

The legislation would prevent people from attempting to influence or persuade women not to access abortion. The legislation would prohibit silent prayer, the holding of signs and offers of alternatives to abortion.

While the Irish Government has yet to decide on the extent of prison time or penalties for those who choose to offer alternatives to abortion in a peaceful manner, a pro-abortion campaign group, Together for Safety, had drafted a previous version of the bill that demanded a €3,000 fine or a jail sentence of six months.

“No evidence” that pro-life protests at any centres are abusive or threatening

Pro-life groups in Ireland have pointed out that abortion supporters have not offered any evidence that the censorship zones are necessary.

Megan Ní Scealláin of the Life Institute said: “Garda Commissioner Drew Harris wrote to the Minister for Health [Stephen Donnelly] to clearly state that there was ‘no evidence’ to suggest that pro-life protests at any centres were abusive or threatening. He confirmed that the vigils were, in fact, peaceful and lawful”.

“Of course, Stephen Donnelly knows this, and he is choosing to ignore the advice of Gardai to do the bidding of campaign groups and to punch down at pro-life activists who he knows are breaking no laws”, she said.

“In fact, the Garda Commissioner also stated that if any laws were to be broken existing laws were sufficient to deal with that”.

Censorship zones in the UK

In the UK, since it conducted a review on the introduction of national censorship zones outside abortion clinics in England and Wales in 2017 and 2018, the UK Government has maintained that there already exists legislation to address harassment and intimidation. The then Home Secretary, Sajid Javid said that “…introducing national buffer zones would not be a proportionate response”.

Right To Life UK spokesperson, Catherine Robinson, said: “The Irish Government seems to have gone far further than that the UK Government has, driven by its zeal to prevent alternatives to abortion being peacefully presented to women. As the Garda Commissioner made clear, there is ‘no evidence’ of intimidation or threats outside abortion clinics, and if there were, existing legislation is capable of dealing with that problem”.

“As is typically the case with this discussion, the lack of any video evidence whatsoever is a strong indication that the extent of activity outside abortion clinics is greatly exaggerated, and also indicates that claims about harassment and intimidation are simply untrue”.

“Sadly, supporters of censorship zones have made various claims at odds with the facts. Earlier this year, for instance, the Belfast Health Trust apologised to MLAs in Northern Ireland for deceiving them by inflating the number of incidents during pro-life demonstrations outside abortion clinics from 11 to 41 over a six-month period. In other words, the Belfast Health Trust lied to suit their political purposes”.

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