Has a vindictive government overplayed its hand in the legislation of aboriton safe zones?
The legislative framework for a proposed Bill to prohibit anti-abortion vigils outside abortion clinics was revealed last week by a gleeful Stephen Donnelly, no doubt looking to throw dirt into the eyes of Ireland’s erstwhile pro-life movement.
Aspiring to ban demonstrations within 100 metres of ‘specified healthcare premises’ where terminations occur, Donnelly achieved cabinet approval to move plans forward with an adjacent Bill already proposed in the Seanad.
Rather audaciously aiming to stop pro-lifers “advising, persuading or informing, or attempting to advise, persuade, or inform any person concerning issues related to termination of pregnancy services….by any means, including, without limitation, graphic, physical, verbal or written means, prayer or counselling” the basic remit of the Bill is a basic affront to a free society.
The spectre of a Rosary outside hospitals is enough to apparently move the legislative hand to crush any opposition to the nation’s abortion mills.
Driven by an entirely manufactured media and NGO panic, Gript has diligently documented the rather contrived and contradictory consultation process which has drawn criticism for weighted testimonies from pro-abortion groups and an apparent lack of legislative need according to Gardaí.
Moving to be drafted by the Attorney General in conjunction with the Department of Health, the nature of the Bill perhaps makes it vulnerable to constitutional inspection should the pro-life movement want to chance its arm.
Specified in Article 40 of Bunreacht protection of the fundamental right to assembly is protected under the auspices of the constitution,
“The State guarantees liberty for the exercise of the following rights, subject to public order and morality…The right of the citizens to assemble peaceably and without arms”
Considering the spirit of Bunreacht, this gives a prospective pro-life challenge some wriggle room even without the assault on religous liberty the current phrasing of the Bill represents prohibiting prayer.
While going on to add a caveat that this right is void in instances where there is a breach of the peace, this does open an avenue for a possible constitutional challenge down the line.
A pro-life constitutional challenge would have a hard task dealing with an ideological judiciary and a state trying to paint demonstrations as a public order issue but strong probability exists to cripple any Bill.
In theory the constitutional grounds for banning pro-life vigils is razor thin but whether this fact is actualised in court another matter.
So prohibitive is the prospective law that even future Rallys for Life will have to consider their route around Dublin city.
In the North a similar Bill is currently being considered at the UK Supreme Court and the grounds of contravening existing human rights legislation.
From Raymond Crotty and Patricia McKenna stalling Eurofederalism to attempts to frustrate the Children’s Referendum, there have been numerous instances of legislative processes stymied by a well prepped legal case.
While the covid period has seen the state throwing out the book on the right to public protest, a strategic challenge could kill the Safe Access Bill cold or at least ineffective if it’s found to be unconstitutional.
The chilling effects of this Bill if passed does not need to be elucidated on regardless if one finds pro-life vigils unfavourable or unproductive. Failure to occupy the public space to bear witness to the pro-life case psychologically hobbles any fightback and that state knows this.
Donnelly and the Leinster House regime are on their victory lap with this Bill and the pro-life movement is well within their rights to try trip them up.