Tuesday, 29 May 2018

One Step Closer: Safe Access Zones for Clinics in NSW

A year ago, in May 2017, the Abortion Law Reform bill–spearheaded by Greens’ MP Dr Mehreen Faruqi–was sadly defeated in the upper house. The bill was attempt to provide safe access zones and ensure removal of abortion from the NSW crimes act, allowing women (and of course non-binary and trans men, all affected by our patriarchal laws) to access necessary medical care without judgement or harassment.

Though community opinion polling revealed the people of NSW overwhelmingly behind the removal of abortion offences from the NSW crimes act, a majority male parliament voted against the bill.


Credit: Twitter

Dr Faruqi said at the time:
“I am disappointed that the NSW Legislative Council has voted to keep abortion a Crime in NSW, a position that is completely out of step with modern medical practice, community expectation and laws in almost all other states…  But the genie is out of the bottle now, more people than ever are awakened to this injustice and I am confident that under a less conservative parliament, less dominated by conservative men, abortion will be taken out of the Crimes Act and women will be able to access reproductive health clinics without harassment in future.”

She was right.

Now, only a year later, we’ve had an incremental win. Labor’s Penny Sharpe co-sponsored a bill with Nationals Trevor Khan. Not attempting to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act this time, but instead focusing on 150m safe access zones or ‘exclusion zones’ around abortion clinics. This bill, as you’ve probably heard this week, passed the Upper House, where the previous Abortion Law Reform bill was defeated.

This bill, if passed, would bring NSW in line with Victoria, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory.

The bill, which amends the Public Health Act, proposes establishing 150-metre safe access zones outside clinics. Currently, anti-choice abortion protestors can harass women and people around the entryways to the clinics.

Paul Nattrass, practice manager at The Private Clinic has opined to The Sydney Morning Herald that the harassment is meant to “increase the emotional cost of having an abortion”, which I would believe. He states: “on days when the protestors are outside it’s common to see every fourth or fifth woman upset or emotional.”

This bill would make it an offence to harass outside clinics.

“This bill makes the important distinction that what is happening outside clinics in New South Wales is not protest, it is the targeting of individuals...” MP Penny Sharpe said, “who are seeking lawful medical treatment.” (http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-05-24/abortion-bill-passes-upper-house-banning-pro-life-protestors/9797464)

Co-sponsor Nationals MP Trevor Khan said of the bill:
“Women should not be interfered with, they should not be intimidated or harassed anywhere, but certainly not near reproductive health clinics…Nor should people communicate with women by giving them distressing material or calling them baby murders or child killers.”

As shown by the footage in this article by Gina Rushton, the anti-choice protestors try to exploit people of colour, telling them they can help them with “immigration problems” if they keep their baby.

In this article, you can see the anti-choice protestors punching the partner of a woman inside the clinic.

And in this piece, Bridget Dominic recounts being harassed on her way to access a clinic, where she was just having an IUD inserted.

“It’s hard to overstate how confrontational it is to have people block your way and shout at you on the street.”

This bill would make it illegal to obstruct or interfere with people accessing the clinics. It would make it illegal to communicate, in relation to abortions, in a manner that could cause distress or anxiety to a person accessing the clinic and this bill would make it illegal to record people accessing the clinic or to distribute visual data of people accessing the clinic.

This week, Ireland also voted to repeal the 8th Amendment, which for all intents and purposes was an abortion ban. Having this bill pass our own Upper House marks the changing tide of public opinion on abortion.

If the bill passes the Lower House, it will become law, and we will be one step closer to removing abortion from the criminal code and bringing NSW more in line with most of Australia and the developed world. It would enshrine a rejection of abortion stigma into law. We need to end the stigma so the women of NSW have agency to make decisions about reproductive health.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said of the bill: “I appreciate the intent of the bill and for that reason I'm likely to support it”

Let’s hope she’s in good company.

1 comment:

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