UPDATE: Dáil Éireann Passes Abortion 'Buffer Zone' Bill

Country: Ireland

Date of incident: November 15, 2023

The lower house of the Irish Parliament has passed a bill in support of so-called 'buffer zones' around abortion clinics, which will now move to the upper house (Seanad) for consideration. The proposed Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services) / Safe Access Zones Bill criminalizes individuals attempting to offer advice or influence pregnant women within 100 meters of an abortion clinic. Repeat offenders could face a fine of €2,500 or up to six months in prison. Churches loced within these zones fear restrictions on church grounds under the propsed bill.

The bill seeks to forbid actions like obstructing or intimidating individuals, filming or recording, and communicating materials aimed at influencing decisions about termination services. The legislation grants the police authority to caution individuals about prohibited acts if there's a belief they may engage in them.

The case of churches within the 100-meter buffer zone is also regulated in the bill. But although it reflects that it is possible to carry out the censored activities strictly inside the temple, some churches worry this might restrict the display of certain materials or prayers that might be consindered influencing individuals on church grounds. 

Similar legislation is already in force in England, Wales and Northern Ireland where censorship zones are also imposed around abortion clinics. Currently, a similar bill is also being discussed in Scotland. Like with UK legislation, the text of the bill fails to differentiate between harassment and non-disruptive activities, like silent prayer, leading to the possibility of an interpretation that would end up prohibiting prayer as an "intimidating activity."

Some lawmakers expressed concerns during the debate, citing worries about the restriction of peaceful protests and curtailment of freedom of expression. Deputies raised objections, emphasizing the importance of respecting different viewpoints and the right to peaceful assembly, especially on sensitive issues like abortion.

Source: Houses of the OireachtasThe Christian InstituteCatholic Herald

Symbolic photo by Adam Fagen on Flickr