In a referendum last year, voters repealed a clause in Ireland’s constitution that effectively outlawed abortion, and legislation passed at the end of 2018 allowed for unrestricted terminations of pregnancies up to 12 weeks.
The legalisation was immediately met by small-scale protests. A demonstration at a clinic in Galway on Thursday saw a handful of anti-abortion activists gathered outside the entrance with signs reading: “Real doctors don’t terminate their patients,” and “Say no to abortion in Galway.”
The protests set off calls for additional legislation to protect those seeking abortions and for the physicians providing them, including establishing exclusion zones that would restrict how close protesters could be to places that provide abortions.
Mairead Enright, a senior lecturer in law at the University of Birmingham and member of the advocacy group Lawyers for Choice, said legislation was needed to ensure that women and doctors did not feel intimidated.
“It’s about generally sending a message about access, sending a message that it’s no longer permissible to stigmatise and intimidate and mislead and obstruct women who are accessing a legal service,” she said.
Simon Harris, Ireland’s health minister, pledged this week to work to designate exclusion zones around clinics providing abortion services, with a plan to introduce a bill in the coming weeks.
Anti-abortion activists denounced his call for exclusion zones, saying they could limit free speech.
“Abortion providers are going to be protested and picketed in Ireland. It happens in other democracies, it will happen here and it will intensify. It is a democratic right,” Declan Ganley, an Irish businessman and prominent anti-abortion campaigner, wrote on Twitter.
Some Irish men and women have begun to organise on social media in solidarity with those seeking abortions, vowing to accompany anyone to a clinic who is in need of support.
Using the hashtag #SiulLiom (“walk with me” in the Irish language), dozens have pledged their support.
Mr Harris, the health minister, said 200 GPs have signed up to provide abortion services and more would be added next week.
However, only some are willing to be publicly listed on the national health service’s “My Options” website, the main referral pathway for women seeking an abortion.
Four counties in Ireland have no GPs listed on the official government website, raising concerns about access, abortion rights activists say.
“Many women, particularly in rural Ireland, will have to travel significant distances,” Ms Enright said. “We hope that we are going to be able to build on this initial provision.”
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