Laws that protect the dignity, safety and privacy of women seeking reproductive healthcare should be upheld, the Human Rights Law Centre has argued in submissions accepted this week by the High Court.
The High Court will hear a challenge to the validity of Victoria’s safe access zone laws, which came into operation in 2016 and put an end to the harmful and distressing harassment and intimidation of women outside abortion clinics.
Adrianne Walters, senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre said, safe access zone laws are absolutely vital to protecting a woman’s right to access reproductive healthcare.
"For too long, women in Victoria were subjected to abuse and intimidation just for exercising their right to access a lawful health service. Since May 2016, safe access zones have ensured that women do not have to run a gauntlet of harassment and intimidation when trying to see their doctor."
"The activities of anti-abortionists outside clinics have caused serious distress, fear and anxiety to patients and staff. There have been a number of instances of violence outside abortion clinics around Australia, including the murder of a security guard in Victoria," said Walters.
The High Court challenge has been brought by anti-abortionist, Kathleen Clubb. Ms Clubb was convicted of communicating about abortion to a couple entering the East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic in a manner "reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety" inside a safe access zone.
Walters said the case raises important questions about balancing the rights of women seeking access to medical care and the implied freedom of political communication in the Constitution.
"Free speech is not a licence to harm others with impunity. Our position is that Victoria’s safe access zone laws strike the right balance between the freedom of political communication and a woman’s right to privately and safely see her doctor," said Walters.
Victoria’s safe access zone laws were enacted following a Supreme Court challenge by the East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic to end decades long harassment by anti-abortionists outside the Clinic. The Human Rights Law Centre was a part of the Clinic’s legal team.
Tasmania, NSW, the ACT and the Northern Territory also have safe access zone laws. A Bill currently in the Queensland Parliament would create safe access zones around clinics in that state. Tasmania’s safe access zone laws are also being challenged in the High Court.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s application to intervene as a friend of the court can be found here.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s intervention to the High Court has been generously assisted on a pro bono basis by DLA Piper and an exceptional team of barristers.
For interviews call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519