Abortion clinic “safe zones” introduced in NSW

8 June 2018

Abortion clinic “safe zones” introduced in NSW

Photo credit: J Bar (Wikimedia) — CC BY 3.0 licence

The NSW Parliament has passed legislation that imposes 150-metre “safe access zones” around clinics and hospitals that provide abortions, under which protesters face imprisonment for harassing people outside of the facilities.

The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018, which now awaits assent from the Governor of NSW, aims to ensure the privacy and safety of women accessing the clinics, and was passed easily and without amendment through the Legislative Assembly, with a final vote of 61 to 18 in favour.

Labor MLC Penny Sharpe, who co-sponsored the bill with Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, welcomed passing of the new law as a “terrific day for women in NSW and the staff that work in reproductive health clinics”.

The bill, which amends the Public Health Act 2010, will establish 150-metre safe zones around termination facilities, inside of which it will be illegal to obstruct and harass people accessing clinics or to record them without their consent.

One of the provisions under the new legislation also encompasses a broad communication policy, whereby any “communication that relates to abortions, by any means” that causes “distress or anxiety” to those who are accessing or exiting the facilities will be illegal.

The laws will not apply to church grounds or the forecourt outside NSW Parliament, or to campaigning during elections.

The offences carry penalties of up to six months imprisonment for a first offence and 12 months imprisonment for a subsequent offence.

Those in favour of the bill grounded their arguments in the right of women to access medical services free from interference, while those who opposed the bill argued it encroached too far on the right to freedom of speech and the right to protest.

Health Minister Brad Hazzard, one of six government ministers to speak in favour of the bill, said that while he believed abortion should be a “last resort”, women should be able to access facilities “without any concerns at all that others would seek to impose those views on you at your most vulnerable time.”