Minister for Health Simon Harris has said that he is considering exclusion zones to ensure patients can access maternity hospitals without being harassed.

Mr Harris said it should not take the passage of legislation to ensure people act with basic decency.

Referring to a protest on Wednesday outside the Rotunda Hospital in Dublin, he said he was extraordinarily concerned as Minister for Health that a national maternity hospital had to take to social media to warn women that they would be confronted by people protesting with vulgar images on their way into the hospital.

He said he was looking at how this issue could be addressed and whether it could be dealt with through health legislation.

Mr Harris was speaking at Government Buildings to give an update on steps being taken by his department to put into effect the will of the people as expressed in the recent referendum on the Eighth Amendment.

Minister Harris said it will most likely be early autumn before the legislation to give effect to the abortion referendum comes before the Dáil.

He said this is because the courts must first hear three challenges to the referendum result. 

"We remain ready to introduce the legislation but more importantly to introduce the services effective from January 1st 2019," he said.

It had been expected that the Dáil would begin debating the legislation on 10 July next. 

However, the Minister said the clear legal advice available to him is that he can not introduce the legislation in the Dáil until the court issues are concluded. 

He added that while he could not comment on the business of the courts he expects that abortion services will be available by 1 January 2019.

On legalising abortion pills, he said the Government is looking at the fact that some medicines are already regulated in other EU countries and there could be a mechanism of mutual recognition for medicines allowed in other jurisdictions.