Safe access zone bill in South Australia welcome, but amendments needed

Safe access zone bill in South Australia welcome, but amendments needed

Laws that promote the safety, dignity and privacy of women accessing reproductive healthcare could soon be a reality in South Australia. 

The Human Rights Law Centre has welcomed the development and urged the South Australian Parliament to make some small amendments to ensure that the laws strike the right balance between a woman’s right to access healthcare and freedom of expression.

The Healthcare (Health Access Zones) Amendment Bill 2019 was introduced into the South Australian Parliament today. Similar safe access zone laws in Victoria and Tasmania were upheld by the High Court of Australia earlier this year.

Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that sensible and proportionate safe access zones have a critical role to play in protecting the privacy and safety of women seeking healthcare.

“Anti-abortion activists cause unacceptable distress, fear and anxiety to patients and staff outside clinics.  Right now, women seeking reproductive healthcare in South Australia are being harassed by anti-abortion activists. The High Court has made it clear that safe access zone laws have an important role to play in protecting a woman’s right to access healthcare safely and privately,” said Walters.

The Bill would create buffer zones of 150 metres around hospitals and the Pregnancy Advisory Centre. Within the zones it would be an offence to intimidate, harass or threaten another person, or obstruct or record a person accessing the premises. 

However, the Bill goes further than other states and territories by prohibiting “attempts to communicate” about abortion and creating a maximum penalty of two years imprisonment for a person found guilty of prohibited conduct.

“We commend the effort to introduce safe access zone laws in South Australia, but the laws need to carefully balance the right to access healthcare with the freedom of political expression. The prohibition on ‘attempts’ to communicate and harsher penalties in this Bill go a step too far - some simple amendments can be made to ensure that the Bill strikes the right balance,” said Walters.

“We urge the South Australian Parliament to follow the example of Victoria’s safe access zone laws, which have received the High Court’s constitutional tick of approval,” said Walters.

South Australia and Western Australia are the only two states in Australia to have not yet legislated for safe access zones.

Media contact:

Roselina Press, HRLC Digital Producer, roselina.press@hrlc.org.au or 0478170742

Photo credit: Lorie Shaull