In May of 2018, the Irish voted overwhelmingly in a national referendum to repeal the Eighth Amendment and allow for legal abortions. Previously, abortion had been banned in the nation except when the mother’s health is deemed to be in danger.
The Eighth Amendment was officially repealed on Sept. 18, 2018, and a law was enacted in December legalizing abortion up to 12 weeks pregnancy, and thereafter in cases where the mother’s health is seriously at risk. The law went into effect at the beginning of 2019.
Professor Mary Higgins, a consultant OB/GYN at National Maternity Hospital who campaigned for legal abortion in the referendum, took video of the vigil outside on Wednesday and tweeted “wonder why we need exclusion zones.”
In a Thursday radio interview on RTÉ Radio 1's “Today with Seán O'Rourke”, she acknowledged the protests were peaceful and involved singing and praying the rosary. The chants, singing, and rosary, however, were “disturbing” to the women in the post-natal ward two floors above the vigil, she said.
Higgins noted on Twitter that Wednesday’s protests occurred “beneath the windows of a postnatal ward, in front if people leaving after a miscarriage, with small coffins, crosses and unsavoury images.”
Since pro-life advocates began protesting outside abortion clinics in Ireland, exclusion zones have been discussed as a means of keeping the protests at a certain distance.
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties is campaigning for “safe zones” to “allow people to access healthcare in private and with dignity, as is their right.”
Ireland’s health minister Simon Harris said on Thursday that he is working on a “constitutional” way of setting up exclusion zones.
“Appalled to see,” he tweeted in response to Higgins’ video of the vigil. “I don’t wonder why we need it at all. Have been engaging with Attorney General, Gardai & service providers about how best to bring it in in a manner that is constitutional etc. Can assure you I am committed to it and will be meeting cross party on it this month”.
Senator Catherine Noone of the Fine Gael party also tweeted that “exclusion zone legislation” to establish a boundary outside abortion clinics and GP practices for protesters “needs to be a major priority for the start of the new term.”
“The danger is that it might never happen if there’s a change of Government,” she said.
Luke Silke, a spokesperson for Students for Life Ireland, opposed the imposition of exclusion zones while appearing on RTÉ Radio 1 with Higgins on Thursday.
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He said that “introducing exclusion zones in Ireland, I feel, would create a very dangerous precedent for denying freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly, or protest, in public areas.”
Silke noted that he did not care for some of the “tactics” used by the pro-life protesters in Dublin. On Twitter, he specifically mentioned the use of small coffins right outside a maternity ward as problematic.
“Our goal would be to save lives and empower women,” he said.
Higgins, appearing simultaneously on the radio show with Silke, said the protests and the images used by them unnerved children and women and argued in favor of exclusion zones. The use of small coffins was “triggering” for women who have had miscarriages or babies stillborn, she said.
“I have no issue with peaceful protests. I do have an issue with where they are and how they’re directly underneath our post-natal ward with newborn babies,” she said.