Ireland to provide safe access zones for abortion services

DUBLIN (Reuters) – Ireland will introduce safe access zones around premises where abortion services will be provided and ensure cost is not a barrier to terminations as part of new laws following a historic referendum vote to repeal its strict abortion laws.

The once deeply Catholic nation voted to scrap a prohibition on abortion by a margin of two-to-one in May, with citizens of every age and background demanding an overhaul of one of the world’s most restrictive regimes.

The government of Prime Minister Leo Varadkar, who campaigned to repeal the laws, had promised in the run up to the vote to introduce legislation to allow abortions with no restriction up to 12 weeks into a pregnancy.

“I have received government approval for two new policy areas to be included in legislation. The first is that services will be provided on a universal basis — so that cost is not a barrier for women to access these services,” Health Minister Simon Harris said in a statement on Tuesday.

“The second is the provision of safe access zones — areas around premises where abortion services are provided where patients and staff can go without fear of intimidation or harassment, and without being subjected to posters or protests.”

The government plans to run the service through family doctors, rather than abortion clinics.

The legislation will not be introduced in parliament before this week’s summer recess due to a number of legal challenges taken against the result of the referendum. Harris said the government still intended to make the services available from January next year.

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