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Caution needed over anti-abortion protests, Archbishop warns

By Cian Molloy - 07 January, 2019

“I would be particularly cautious about protesting against GPs because everybody is going there, and people go there for all sorts of reasons.”

Protesting against abortion is a right, but it is a right that must be exercised with caution, said Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin.

The Archbishop made the warning in an RTE interview on Sunday.

Last week, pro-life activists staged a protest outside the Galvia West Medical Centre in Galway with signs reading “Real Doctors Don’t Terminate their Patients” and “There is Always a Better Option”.

An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, who campaigned for a Yes vote in last year’s abortion referendum, said, “There are other ways to protest.”

In an interview on the Radio 1 This Week programme, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin said everyone has a right to protest under the constitution which protects freedom of expression.

“[But] I would be particularly cautious about protesting against GPs because everybody is going there, and people go there for all sorts of reasons.”

In a bid to prevent protests outside GP surgeries and medical facilities either referring women for abortions or carrying out pregnancy terminations, the government is proposing setting up exclusion zones, similar to those that prevent electioneering near polling stations on election days.

In the past, pro-lifers organising demonstrations in favour of the right to life have been charged with public order offences. In 1999, eight Youth Defence members were convicted after they resisted efforts by Gardaí to halt a pro-life demonstration outside the Adelaide Hospital.

“Protests can be legitimate,” said Archbishop Martin. “But you can’t absolutise. It’s up to the government to ensure that the various rights of people are protected.”

Archbishop Martin was then asked about his view on the right of pro-life doctors to refuse to refer pregnant women to other doctors who would facilitate the abortion of their child.  At present, it is illegal for a pro-life doctor not to refer a woman seeking termination of her pregnancy to an abortionist doctor.

The Archbishop said that it was normal in democracies for individuals to be allowed to exercise their conscientious objections and to not be coerced into acting against their conscience.

“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. Where you begin to trample the rights of conscience then you’re moving into a very different form of government.”

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