Belfast Telegraph

Archbishop urging caution over abortion protests outside GPs

By Ian Begley

The Catholic Archbishop of Dublin has said he disagrees with protests outside GP surgeries, but believes that anti-abortion demonstrations can still be legitimate.

Abortion services were introduced in the Republic on New Year's Day following a landslide vote in favour of liberalising the country's strict laws.

Dr Diarmuid Martin also voiced his support for doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion who "clash with the law", saying they should not face any professional sanction.

Speaking on RTE Radio One's This Week show, Dr Martin said "everybody has a right to make a protest", and the Irish Government needs to ensure that the rights of all people are protected.

"We have a constitution which protects freedom of expression. Everybody has a right to make a protest," he said.

"Protesting within the rule of law and the rule of the constitution, you can't be against it. I would be particularly cautious about protesting against GPs because everybody is going there, and people go there for all sorts of reasons.

"I'm not a person personally for protest, but what the Church should be doing is strengthening its resolve to help women in crisis and to educate people about the broad range (of help)," he added.

Asked about the prospect of exclusion zones around medical facilities where abortions are provided, Dr Martin said they need to be introduced within the realm of the constitution.

"Protests can be legitimate, but you can't absolutise, it's up to the Government to ensure that the various rights of people are protected," he said.

Irish Health Minister Simon Harris has said his priority is to introduce "safe access zones" to prevent anti-abortion protests.

Dr Martin also voiced support for medical professionals who conscientiously object to abortion.

"Respecting the rights of conscience of individuals, even where they may come to clash with the law, is a very important thing in any democracy," he said.

"Where you begin to trample the rights of conscience then you're moving into a very different form of government."

Dr Martin added that conscientious objectors in the medical profession might have to clash with the law, and that he hoped in such cases they would not face professional sanctions.

He said he did not believe the question of abortion would be revisited in the near future, and the Church should play a role in attempting to ensure that abortions are rare.

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