Women in NSW will no longer be forced to run a gauntlet of abuse and harassment just to see their doctor after the NSW Parliament overnight passed a bill to create safe access zones around abortion clinics.
The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018, which was co-sponsored by Labor MLC, Penny Sharpe and Nationals MLC, Trevor Khan, recognises the importance of women’s right to safely and privately access lawful reproductive health services.
Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said the law is an important recognition and validation of women's rights and experiences.
“No more harassment and no more intimidation. No longer will women have to suffer abuse just to see their doctor. The safety, wellbeing and dignity of women outside reproductive health services will now be protected by law. We commend the NSW Parliament for taking action to end this insidious form of violence against women," 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 reasonably likely to cause anxiety or distress.
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 regularly beset by anti-abortionists, said ensuring women have safe passage to reproductive healthcare will be a huge relief for his patients.
"Every day I’ve seen the stress caused to our patients by the aggressive and intimidating tactics of anti-abortionists. I’m delighted that women will no longer have to experience forceful and intrusive questioning about their medical decisions from strangers outside our clinic. The creation of safe zones outside clinics like ours will ensure women can access health services safely and privately," said Mr Nattrass.
The bill does not decriminalise abortion. Abortion in NSW is still regulated by criminal laws that were written over a 100 years ago. While exceptions enable women to have an abortion in certain circumstances, the laws cause confusion and place decision-making power in the hands of third parties.
Ms Walters said it is time for the NSW Government to decriminalise abortion and respect women as capable 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. Abortion laws in NSW defy community values, undermine modern medical practice and are hopelessly out of step with women’s basic rights," said Ms Walters.
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