The NSW upper house has passed the Safe Access Zone bill designed to give women protection when entering abortion clinics.
The bill is expected to be tabled in the lower house for debate on June 5.
The proposed legislation makes it an offence to interfere with anyone entering or leaving an abortion clinic, as well as taking photos or videos of anyone in the 150-metre safe zone.
“Women in NSW are currently forced to run the gauntlet of people gathered outside reproductive health clinics,” according to Labor MLC Penny Sharpe who introduced the bill.
“They are jostled, abused, handed distressing and misleading information about the consequences of abortion and sometimes even photographed.”
Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, who co-sponsored the bill, said such conduct was “unnecessary and unreasonable”.
“If the bill passes it will allow women to enter and leave reproductive clinics free from interference and intimidation,” Mr Khan said.
“It will prevent these so-called side-walk counsellors from approaching women, and from causing additional stress and anxiety at a particularly challenging time of their lives.”
Under the draft legislation anyone found to have breached the law could face up to six months behind bars and a $5550 fine. A second or subsequent offence attracts a penalty of up to 12 months jail and an $11,000 fine.
Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory have all introduced similar ‘safe access zones’ around reproductive health clinics which provide abortions.
Right to Life NSW’s Executive Officer Isaac Spencer said everyone should be protected from harassment, but the proposed legislation has the effect of banning people based on their view of abortion.
“This bill would criminalise people for standing peacefully outside an abortion clinic and offering help and support to women going inside,” Mr Spencer said.
“It seeks to create censorship zones, where it would be illegal to offer any alternative to abortion.”
Australian Lawyers For Human Rights’ President Kerry Weste said safe access zones do not stop individuals or groups from expressing their political opinions.
“People will still be able to express their views but they will not be able to conduct certain specified behaviours within 150 metres of an abortion clinic,” Ms Weste said.
“Claims that safe access zones interfere with freedom of speech or religion misunderstand the very concrete terms, standards and norms enshrined in international human rights law, particularly the interdependent and indivisible nature of all human rights.”