Late on Saturday afternoon last, in a rather bizarre move, the Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, issued a statement declaring his full commitment to introducing exclusion zones outside abortion facilities. The statement was in response to a front page report in the Irish Examiner claiming the government had shelved plans to introduce such zones.
As the Pro Life Campaign’s press release in response to the minister’s intervention said: “For the Minister for Health to frantically issue a statement on a Saturday afternoon stating his commitment to introducing ‘censorship zones’ shows just how subservient he is to the abortion lobby.”
In truth, the government should never have committed to bringing forward such legislation in the first instance. If enacted, it would represent a gross infringement of civil liberties and freedom of expression. Speaking on radio about the campaign to introduce censorship zones, PLC spokesperson, Eilís Mulroy said: “Some abortion supporters appear to spend most of their time looking for isolated examples to demonise and unfairly depict the pro-life movement. The truth however is that pro-life volunteers are extremely peaceful and respectful whenever they assemble in public. To introduce a law that specifically singles out and targets pro-lifers would be a totally unjust and discriminatory move.”
It’s very obvious that abortion supporters are using this story to push for more changes as part of the three year review of the new abortion law. The focus of this review should not be about trying to create wider access to abortion but rather on finding ways to reduce the spiralling abortion rate and putting supports in place to provide positive alternatives to abortion.
Stephen Donnelly has admitted he’s currently in contact with ‘stakeholders’ regarding the three-year review. It is utterly unacceptable that no representatives are included in these discussions who offer alternative perspectives to those who have overseen the rollout of the new law and the huge rise in the number of abortions taking place.
While the Minister for Health was quick to placate pro-abortion activists last Saturday with his statement, there’s no getting away from the legal and constitutional obstacles that stand in his way in bringing forward censorship zone legislation. It’s obvious from the recent answers he gave in the Dáil to parliamentary questions on the issue that he’s fully appraised of these obstacles and the curtailment of basic freedoms it would involve. He is aware too of the Garda Commissioner’s stated position that legislating for censorship zones is an unnecessary and disproportionate response to the issue.