A memorial in Dublin for Savita Halappanavar, who died of complications from a miscarriage. She became a symbol for abortion-rights campaigners.CreditCreditPaulo Nunes dos Santos for The New York Times

Ireland this week began offering legalized abortion services, a historic shift in a country that for decades had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in Europe.

In a referendum last year, voters repealed a clause in Ireland’s Constitution that effectively outlawed abortion, and legislation passed at the end of 2018 allowed for unrestricted terminations of pregnancies up to 12 weeks.

The legalization was immediately met by small-scale protests, with a demonstration at a clinic in Galway gaining national attention on Thursday after a handful of anti-abortion activists gathered outside the entrance with signs that read, “Real doctors don’t terminate their patients,” and “Say no to abortion in Galway.”

The protests set off calls for additional legislation to protect those seeking abortions and for the physicians providing them, including establishing exclusion zones that would restrict how close protesters could be to places providing abortions.

Mairead Enright, a senior lecturer in law at Birmingham University in Britain and a member of the advocacy group Lawyers for Choice, said legislation was needed to ensure that women and doctors did not feel intimidated.

“It’s about generally sending a message about access, sending a message that it’s no longer permissible to stigmatize and intimidate and mislead and obstruct women who are accessing a legal service,” she said.

Simon Harris, Ireland’s health minister, pledged this week to work to designate exclusion zones around clinics providing abortion services, with a plan to introduce a bill in the coming weeks, according to the Irish Independent.

Anti-abortion activists denounced his call for exclusion zones, saying they could limit free speech.

“Abortion providers are going to be protested & picketed in Ireland, it happens in other democracies it will happen here & it will intensify. It is a democratic right,” Declan Ganley, an Irish businessman and prominent anti-abortion campaigner, wrote on Twitter.

Some Irish men and women have begun to organize on social media in solidarity with those seeking abortions, vowing to accompany anyone in need of support to a clinic.

Using the hashtag #SiulLiom, “walk with me” in the Irish language, dozens have pledged their support.

Mr. Harris, the health minister, said that 200 physicians have signed up to provide abortion services and more would be added next week. However, only some are willing to be publicly listed on the national health service’s “My Options” website, the main referral pathway for women seeking an abortion.

Four counties in Ireland have no physicians listed on the official government website, raising concerns about access, abortion rights activists say.

“Many women, particularly in rural Ireland will have to travel significant distances,” Ms. Enright said. “We hope that we are going to be able to build on this initial provision.”

Source: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/05/world/europe/ireland-abortion-clinic-protest.html