Penny Sharpe MLC has introduced a bill into the New South Wales parliament to protect the privacy, safety and dignity of women accessing reproductive health services.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Emily Howie, welcomed the Summary Offences Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2017 as critically important recognition of women's rights.
“For too long, women in NSW have had to run the gauntlet of intimidation and abuse just to see their doctor. Women can be understandably vulnerable at times when they’re attending a clinic. It’s difficult to understand how this behaviour has been allowed to continue for so long,” said Ms Howie.
The bill creates 150 metre zones around medical clinics that provide abortions in which it will be unlawful to harass, intimidate or interfere with people or to communicate about abortions in a manner that is likely to cause anxiety or distress.
Although the bill will limit to some extent the rights of free speech and to protest, Ms Howie said that limiting those rights can be justified in order to respect women’s rights to privacy, safety and non-discrimination.
“No one is suggesting that people should be prevented from expressing their opinions, only that they do so in a way that respects women’s rights to privacy, security and access to healthcare.”
“Currently we are seeing deliberate attempts across NSW to interfere with a woman’s right to safely and privately see her doctor. Clearly something has to be done,” said Ms Howie.
Tasmania and Victoria already have safe access zones around their abortion clinics. Similar zones also exist in the United States and Canada.
“Safe access zones are an easy and sensible solution. They are about respecting the privacy and dignity of women accessing terminations. UN human rights bodies as well as courts in the US and Canada have all found that sensible measures to ensure safe access to women’s health services do not unreasonably limit the right to freedom of expression and assembly,” added Ms Howie.
The Human Rights Law Centre acted for the East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic in its legal action to have the Melbourne City Council remove anti-abortionists who had beset the Clinic’s premises for decades. The legal action, although unsuccessful, provided a catalyst for much-needed law reform in Victoria. In 2015, Victoria passed a law to create safe access zones with the support of the overwhelming majority of MPs.
For further information or comments, please contact:
In Sydney: Emily Howie, HRLC Director of Legal Advocacy on +61 421 370 997
Related opinion piece: Safe access to abortion clinics must be guaranteed by law