Three days after abortion services became legal in the Republic of Ireland, a doctor’s office in Galway has become the site of an anti-abortion protest. A small group of people took signs with messages such as ‘Say no to abortion in Galway’ and ‘Real doctors don’t terminate their patients’ to stand outside the Galvia West Medical Centre on Thursday morning. The medical centre was chosen as it is on the Health Service Executive (HSE) outlet for the abortion pill.
Response to the protest has been mixed. ‘Walk Tall’ is the Catholic women’s organisation behind the protest, and tweeted on Thursday that ‘the reaction from Galwegians was amazing’. They claimed that their protest had been met with ‘offers of food and coffee, beeping horns and support from many’. The nature of the protest as a peaceful demonstration was also emphasised by organisers.
Pro-choice campaigners, however, have criticised the protest. Ailbhe Smyth from the Together for Yes campaign described the action as ‘public harassment, effectively, of people who are trying to access abortion services’ in an interview with Newstalk radio station. She further condemned the campaign as ‘despicable behaviour’.
The Galway protest has re-ignited calls for legislation to provide exclusion zones around practices offering abortion services. Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has previously clarified that these zones would not prevent people from protesting, but require that they ‘do so in a way that doesn’t interfere with another person’s right to access a lawful health service’. Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has also previously expressed support for such legislation, stating that ‘I don’t think its right to protest outside hospitals, to protest outside GPs’ clinics’ in response to the private and sensitive issue of abortion.
In further attempts to destabilise the new pro-choice legislation, The Guardian also reported that anti-abortion activists have taken action to mislead women away from the HSE website which provides support for unplanned pregnancies. myoptions.ie only launched on Tuesday, but several copy-cat websites have been launched in order to direct women away from accessing it. The HSE warned women seeking advice to be wary of these websites with very similar names who were operating with ‘hidden agendas’. The information offered by these websites includes research that purportedly shows a link between abortion and cancer are linked, a notion described by Dr Mary Favier from the group Doctors For Choice as ‘flagrant nonsense’. The alternative websites also offer to show pregnant women ultrasounds of the foetus.
The decision delivered by 66.4% of voters to repeal the eighth amendment of the Irish constitution, which made abortion illegal in all cases, was celebrated as a powerful support of women’s rights in Ireland. The country has been regarded as socially conservative for decades, and the vote was thought to represent a move towards liberalization. The reaction to the early roll-out of pro-choice services reveals, however, how sharply divisive the issue continues to be. In particular, the Galway case has highlighted the need for legislation that will ensure Irish women are able to receive open and straightforward to the medical services that they require, and which they voted for.
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