Tasmanian abortion reform: Decriminalisation is central to the realisation of women’s human rights

Tasmania’s move to decriminalise abortion has been welcomed by the Human Rights Law Centre in a submission to a Parliamentary Committee reviewing the proposed laws.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Campaigns, Rachel Ball, said abortion is currently the only publicly funded health service that is criminalised.

“Criminalisation creates uncertainty and barriers to accessing important services. It undermines women’s right to non-discrimination, health and privacy. We welcome these overdue reforms and encourage other states to take note,” said Ms Ball

Praising the proposed reforms, Ms Ball said all Australian states should adopt versions of the safe ‘access zones’ for protests included in the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Bill 2013.

“Women should be able to access health services without the fear of having to put up with harassment, abuse and other intimidating behaviour. Having specified access zones like the ones proposed in Tasmania, and already in effect in other countries such as Canada, will help ensure women and staff can feel safe accessing and delivering services,” said Ms Ball.

Whilst welcoming the creation of access zones, the HRLC submission suggests the exact scope of the zones should be tweaked to avoid any unnecessary limitation of freedom of expression or assembly.

“Access zones are consistent with international human rights law when they are tailored to achieve legitimate aims such as protecting the rights of women and also manage to balance this with not excessively limiting other rights such as freedom of expression and assembly,” said Ms Ball.

The HRLC submission cites access zones in Canada that currently only apply up to 50 metres from clinics and argues this is a proportionate and tailored responds to protect the privacy, safety and dignity of female patients as well as staff. The HRLC also suggests the severity of the proposed fines for non-compliance should be reconsidered by the Tasmanian parliamentary committee.

Despite submitting these suggested improvements to the committee, Ms Ball said the proposed laws should be passed as soon as possible.

“There is some room for improvement in this Bill, but overall it is overwhelming positive and I encourage all Tasmanian parliamentarians to embrace these landmark reforms,” said Ms Ball.

A copy of the HRLC submission can be found online here.