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WA to introduce laws to combat abortion clinic harassment

Security for women seeking reproductive health services in Western Australia has taken a major step forward.

user iconTony Zhang 12 February 2020 Big Law
abortion clinic harassment protest
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The Western Australia government on Monday had committed to introducing laws to end the harassment of women at the doors of abortion clinics.

Under the legislation now being drafted, abortion clinics in Western Australia will be surrounded by safe access zones 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If passed, it would bring Western Australia into line with other Australian jurisdictions excluding South Australia, where there is currently a bill before parliament to introduce safe access zones.

 
 

Adrianne Walters, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, congratulated the McGowan government for its commitment to women’s health and equality.

“It’s great to see the McGowan government taking this positive step to promote equality and safe access to healthcare for Western Australia women,” said Ms Walters.

“For far too long, women in Western Australia have had to run a gauntlet of intimidation and abuse just to see their doctor. Safe zones around abortion clinics work to protect women’s safety and privacy where other laws have failed.” 

They will ensure women are no longer intimidated by strangers while trying to walk into their doctor’s front door.”

Safe access zones will create protective zones around abortion services, ensuring that patients cannot be harassed, obstructed or filmed as they enter or leave a service. 

Safe access zone laws have been enacted in every state and territory except South Australia and Western Australia.

“We will be moving as steadily as possible to legislate this important law to make sure we protect the privacy and the dignity of people who are coming to abortion clinics and the staff," Health Minister Roger Cook said on Monday.

In South Australia however, up to 3,500 people protested against the liberalisation of abortion laws marching through the streets of Adelaide. 

The Walk For Life event in Adelaide was organised by Love Adelaide, a not-for-profit group concerned by the potential for “extreme” abortion law changes being proposed in South Australia.                                     

As the two states battle against changing abortion laws, the High Court of Australia last year had handed down its judgment in response to a challenge to the validity of Victorian and Tasmanian abortion service safe access zone laws.

The challenge, mounted by two anti-abortionists, saw the High Court asked to determine whether legal provisions are consistent with the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian constitution.

A report by the Department of Health released on Monday recommends that Western Australia model its safe access zone laws on Victoria’s laws. 

The Human Rights Law Centre said the laws which promote the safety, dignity and privacy of women seeking reproductive healthcare have been upheld by the court, affirming the use of 150-metre buffer zones outside health clinics in the two states.

“The High Court has given Victoria’s safe access zones the constitutional tick of approval. We urge the McGowan government to heed the recommendations of the Department of Health’s report in drafting Western Australia’s safe access zone laws,” said Ms Walters.

Until legislation passes parliament, patients and staff may have to endure intimidation and harassment outside abortion clinics.

Of particular concern is the lead up to Easter, which has in the past, been accompanied by a 40-day anti-abortion vigil,” Ms Walters said. 

In past years, these vigils have seen abortion clinic staff followed and called murderers and patients have been obstructed and had rosary beads, baby booties and medically misleading leaflets forced onto them.

“The activities of anti-abortion activists outside clinics will continue to cause serious distress, fear and anxiety to patients and staff until safe access zones are in place. The McGowan government must ensure that legislation is introduced into parliament as soon as possible,” Ms Walters said. 

Mr Cook similarly commented: Women who make the difficult decision to end their pregnancy had their anguish compounded when harassed by protesters who regularly picket outside the clinics.

Abortion is a legal process, it’s a very private process and it’s one that people should be able to undertake without the fear of being harassed.”