Safe Access Zones Bill

24.11.2022 | Church in Society, Statements, Public Affairs

As the Oireachtas Committee for Health undertakes its pre-legislative scrutiny on the General Scheme of Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly TD’s Health (Termination of Pregnancy Services (Safe Access Zones)) Bill 2022, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland (PCI) has taken the opportunity to submit its views on the draft legislation to the Minister and the committee.

In its submission, the all-Ireland denomination states that while it is important that women seeking to access services should be protected from harassment ‘… a sincere desire to help women and their families in crisis has arrived at a misguided and unwise proposal’. It goes on to express concern that  ‘the law as proposed and framed is unnecessary, impractical, and likely to be counter-productive, undermining public order and curtailing the freedoms of expression and religion that are necessary for a constitutional republic.’ It concludes by urging the Minister and the Committee to reconsider the legislation and recommends that it is withdrawn completely.

Explaining the reasoning behind the Church’s position, Rev William Hayes, the Convener of PCI’s Council for Public Affairs’ panel that assesses various aspects of government policy and legislation going through the Oireachtas, summarised its position. “As a church we are committed to a pro-life for the whole-of-life position. We also recognise the matters reflected in the draft legislation are not only sensitive, but cut across the lives and personal experiences of women and their families who have experienced a crisis pregnancy situation in the past, or who may do so in the future. This is not simply a theological or academic exercise for us within PCI, as many of our ministers, and others in congregations, have journeyed alongside women and families who have experienced a pregnancy crisis and been presented with very difficult decisions. That the bill relates to questions of the right to life is distinctly secondary to how it relates to the right of freedom of expression,” he said.

The minister for Tullamore Presbyterian Church in County Offaly continued, “Our opposition to this legislation certainly does not stem from a desire to see women in difficult circumstances intimidated as they seek to access specific support, not at all. As we clearly state in our submission to the Committee, we deplore any situation where a woman seeking a termination, or medical staff involved in the provision of abortion services, are harassed or subjected to behaviour which would compound their distress.

“However, this draft bill seems to create a precedent for the limitation of speech in public, with no measure or right of appeal. We are not seeking space to protect our practices as Presbyterians but rather as Christians, we are motivated to protect others’ freedom of expression.

Mr Hayes concluded by saying, “There are laws in place that allow the authorities to deal with anti-social and harassing behaviour. Protecting the rights to access these services, which are legal, can be achieved without diminishing the rights to free expression. For this reason and others the broad scope of this draft legislation gives us considerable concern, which is why we have urged the Minister and the Committee to reconsider this well-intentioned but misguided legislation and call for its withdrawal.”

You can read PCI's submission on the Bill to the Oireachtas Committee for Health here.

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