The Victorian Parliament has passed a new law to protect the privacy, safety and dignity of women accessing reproductive health services.
The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, welcomed the Public Health and Wellbeing (Safe Access Zones) Act 2015 as a critically important new law that recognizes the importance of women's rights.
“We are delighted that women will no longer have to run the gauntlet of intimidation and abuse just to see their doctor,” said Ms Howie.
The clinical psychologist at the Fertility Control Clinic, Dr Susie Allanson, expressed her delight and relief that the law would finally protect the staff and patients of the clinic.
“This has been a long time coming, but the law shows our MPs are serious about our society being one that will not tolerate violence against women and that respects women's choices,” said Ms Allanson.
The bill creates 150 metre zones around medical clinics that provide abortions in which it will be unlawful to harass and intimidate people or to communicate about abortions in a manner that is likely to cause anxiety or distress. The bill was introduced after the Fertility Control Clinic lost a bid in the Supreme Court in August this year to have the Melbourne City Council deal with ongoing intimidation and harassment by anti-abortionists.
Although the bill will limit to some extent the rights of free speech and to protest, human rights law recognises that limiting those rights can be justified in order to respect women’s rights to privacy, safety and non-discrimination.
“This law is an important recognition and validation of women's rights and experiences. At the same time, the law ensures that all members of our community have a fair opportunity to express their views. It’s strikes the right balance," said Ms Howie.
The Government introduced the bill in August, taking up the key aspects of a private member's bill introduced by Fiona Patten MLC earlier in the year. The bill was passed with the support of Government, Greens MPs, Fiona Patten and some Coalition MPs.
"It has been wonderful to see our politicians from across political divides work together on an issue as important as this," said Ms Allanson.
Ms Howie said that the Human Rights Law Centre was now looking to roll out similar reforms and also to ensure that abortion is both legal and accessible in other states and territories.
“It’s 2015. It’s unacceptable that abortion has not yet been decriminalized in every state across Australia. This needs to change,” said Ms Howie.
The clinic’s Supreme Court case was run by a team consisting of the Human Rights Law Centre, Maurice Blackburn, Peter Hanks QC, Kristen Walker QC and Therese McCarthy of counsel. Maurice Blackburn and counsel provided their assistance pro bono.
Now the HRLC wants to replicate this reform in other states and territories to ensure that abortion is both legal and accessible right across Australia.
For further information or comments, please contact:
Emily Howie, HRLC Director of Advocacy and Research on +61 421 370 997
Related opinion piece: Safe access to abortion clinics must be guaranteed by law