The importance of a woman's right to safely and privately access reproductive health services has been recognised by the NSW Legislative Council with the passing of a bill that would guarantee safe access zones around abortion clinics.
The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill, which is co-sponsored by Labor MLC, Penny Sharpe and Nationals MLC, Trevor Khan, will now go through to the Legislative Assembly for debate.
Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said seeing support across political parties for a fundamental women’s rights law was a welcome development.
“The safety, wellbeing and dignity of women seeking reproductive health services should be paramount. For far too long, women in NSW have had to run a gauntlet of abuse just to see their doctor. This vote is critical to showing the public that the NSW Parliament will no longer tolerate this insidious form of violence against women. Safe access zones are a straightforward and sensible solution," said Ms Walters.
The bill creates a 150 metre zone around medical clinics that provide abortions, where it will be unlawful to harass, intimidate, obstruct or film people without consent, or to communicate about abortions in a manner likely to cause anxiety or distress. NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has granted a conscience vote on the bill.
Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and Northern Territory already have laws authorising safe access zones around abortion clinics.
Paul Nattrass, Practice Manager at The Private Clinic, a reproductive healthcare service in Sydney, said ensuring women have safe passage to reproductive healthcare would be a huge step forward for his patients.
"Every day I see the stress caused by the aggressive and intimidating tactics used by anti-abortionists. No one should have to suffer forceful, intrusive questioning of their medical treatment from a stranger in the street under any circumstances. The creation of safe zones outside clinics like mine is vital to ensuring women can access health services safely and privately," said Mr Nattrass.
Abortion remains in the criminal statute books of New South Wales. Exceptions enable women to access abortion services in a range of circumstances but place decision-making power in the hands of doctors. The bill does not however, decriminalise abortion.
Ms Walters said it is also time for the NSW Government to decriminalise abortion and respect women as competent decision-makers over their own bodies and lives.
"It is simply unacceptable that in 2018, women and their doctors still run the risk of prosecution for undertaking a safe medical procedure; a procedure that takes place every week in NSW and across Australia. The law is hopelessly out of step with women’s basic rights," said Walters.
The Human Rights Law Centre has applied to provide expert assistance to the High Court in a case that will test the validity of Victoria's safe access zones. Read more about the case here.
For interviews with Adrianne Walters and Paul Nattrass or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519