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Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews

DUBLIN, Ireland, January 7, 2019 (LifeSiteNews) – An Irish archbishop criticized pro-life activists’ peaceful efforts to save unborn babies under the country’s new abortion regime.

“I’m not a person personally for protest, what the Church should be doing is strengthening its resolve to help women in crisis and to educate people,” Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin said in an RTE Radio One interview on Sunday.

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

As for creating exclusion zones around abortion facilities, the archbishop said that he agreed that they should be allowed, but within limits. “Protests can be legitimate, but you can't absolutize. It's up to the government to ensure that the various rights of people are protected.” He may have been referring to a recent call by Irish Health Minister Simon Harris, who recently put a priority on creating “safe access zones” to halt pro-life protests.

As of New Year’s Day, abortion has been legal in the Irish Republic after a landslide referendum vote in 2018 that struck down previous prohibitions.

Archbishop Martin said in the interview that he does believe physicians who “clash with the law” by refusing to refer patients to abortion services should not be subjected to professional sanctions. Saying the government should protect conscientious objection, he said, “We have a constitution which protects freedom of expression. Everybody has a right to make a protest.”

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

While the archbishop said he does not believe that the issue of abortion will probably not come up in the near future, he said the Catholic Church should seek to ensure that abortions are rare.

“One of the things in government policy that was constantly stressed is that abortion should be rare,” said Martin. “We have to do something to help people to make sure that that is the case, and that people who want to keep their child can do it, and can do it with dignity.”

Archbishop Martin is 73 years old and approximately two years from the usual retirement for Catholic bishops who reach age 75. Other personnel changes are afoot: Dublin’s two auxiliary bishops are due to turn 75 this year. During the interview, when asked whether he is ready to retire, he answered, “It would be good, not just that I retire, but that there would be a different leadership in the Church, a younger one, because we are facing very different challenges.”

Following peaceful pro-life protests in Galway, Amnesty International executive director for Ireland Colm O’Gorman tweeted his approval of legislation to be introduced this month that will create exclusion zones around abortion facilities. He wrote: “Well, that didn’t take long. Legislation to impose exclusion zones to prevent obstruction and harassment is due this month. It must be progressed.”

According to the Irish Sun, Irish Health Minister Simon Harris says exclusion zones at abortion facilities to restrict free speech are a priority for the next legislative term. A spokesperson told the Sun that Harris proposes to ensure that abortion providers and persons seeking abortion will have free access to abortion services without having to see or hear appeals from pro-life advocates. The spokesperson told the paper that Harris wants to ensure that abortion “service users and staff” are not subject to “unnecessary intimidation or duress.”

Louise O’Reilly of the leftist Sinn Fein told the Sun that her party wanted “buffer zones” included in December’s abortion legislation. Saying Sinn Fein had raised the issue with Harris before, O’Reilly said he told the party that he would “ deal with it himself and bring forward his own legislation. He should have accepted the opposition amendments at the time which would have included buffer zones.”

Well that didn’t take long. Legislation to impose exclusion zones to prevent obstruction and harassment is due this month. It must be progressed. #ItsTime #SheDecides

After abortion’s approval in Ireland’s legislature in December, it has become legal for any reason up to 12 weeks of gestation and up to six months in a variety of circumstances. Irish taxpayers are on the hook for the procedures, and Catholic hospitals are compelled to provide abortions.

Conscience protections for medical personnel are strictly limited. Physicians and nurses fear that they will be forced to terminate the lives of unborn babies or face job termination. Hospitals are not ready to undertake abortions because of a lack of enough trained staff, clinical guidelines, and ultrasound machines.