Welcome proposal for safe access to abortion clinics in Victoria

A proposed law designed to ensure women can safely and privately access abortion services in Victoria has been welcomed by the Human Rights Law Centre.

The HRLC’s Director of Advocacy, Emily Howie, said the bill, introduced today by cross-bench member Fiona Patten MLC, would create safe access zones around all reproductive health services in Victoria.

“For too long women have had to run the gauntlet of harassment and intimidation to access health services. It’s difficult to understand how this behaviour has been allowed to continue for so long,” said Ms Howie.

The proposed law would create a zone around reproductive health services in which people would be prohibited from harassing, intimidating or impeding people entering the clinic, as well as communicating with or recording those people.

“Currently in Victoria we are seeing a harmful set of behaviours deliberately constructed to impede a woman’s right to safely access health services, clearly something has to be done,” said Ms Howie.

Earlier this year the HRLC and Maurice Blackburn Lawyers took legal action in the Victorian Supreme Court on behalf of a East Melbourne fertility clinic besieged by an anti-choice group for decades. A decision is expected in coming months.

“No one is suggesting that people should be prevented from expressing their opinions, we’re just asking that they do so in a way that respects women’s rights to privacy, security and access to healthcare,” said Ms Howie.

In 2013 Tasmania introduced access zones around clinics in which terminations are conducted. Similar zones also exist in the United States and Canada. The ACT government has also released an exposure draft of a bill to create patient privacy zones that support women’s rights to access health services privately and free from intimidating conduct.

“Safe access zones are about respecting the privacy and dignity of women accessing terminations. UN human rights bodies as well as courts in the US and Canada have all found that sensible measures to ensure safe access to women’s health services do not excessively limit the right to freedom of expression and assembly,” said Ms Howie.

Media enquiries: contact Emily Howie on 0421 370 997