The Victorian Parliament should pass a new bill to protect the privacy, safety and dignity of women accessing reproductive health services, the Human Rights Law Centre has told the Victorian Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee which is currently reviewing the proposed laws.
The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy and Research, Emily Howie, said that Public Health and Wellbeing (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2015 is a welcome and necessary measure to address the daily harassment and intimidation of women trying to see their doctor.
“Women should not have to run the gauntlet of intimidation and abuse just to see their doctor. We strongly support this proposed law that will finally address the current unacceptable state of affairs by ensuring women can safely and privately access abortion clinics,” said Ms Howie.
The bill will create 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 the intimidation and harassment by anti-abortionists.
“The disappointing Supreme Court decision in the case we ran on behalf of the clinic highlighted the urgent need for law reform to fill the gap in legal protection of women wanting to safely access their doctor,” said Ms Howie.
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.
“Nobody is saying that the anti-abortionists don’t have a right to express their views, what we are saying is that it must be done in a way that respects women’s rights to safely and privately access their doctor,” said Ms Howie.
Similar laws have been in place in Canada and the United States for many years. Courts have held that sensible access zones are consistent with free speech.
The bill is due to be debated in the Victorian parliament next week. You can view the HRLC's submission here.
For further details or comments, please contact:
Emily Howie on 0421 370 997 or firstname.lastname@example.org