Abortion Clinics Finally Have 'Safe Access Zones'

Harassing people entering or leaving an abortion clinic now carries a maximum penalty of six months prison or a $5,550 fine.

What you need to know
  • NSW Parliament passes bill 61-18 establishing 150-meter safe access zones around abortion clinics
  • It is now a criminal offence to harass, record or communicate with people negatively about abortion within this space
  • A first time offence carries a maximum penalty of six months prison or a $5,550 fine
  • The actions of so-called 'sidewalk counselors' is tantamount to "mental torture", said Labor MP Kate Washington

Safe access zones of 150-meters around abortion clinics have finally been established in New South Wales.

Following the passing of a historic bill in NSW Parliament, it is now a criminal act to interfere with, obstruct, or record any person coming or going from an abortion clinic in the state.

Such an offence carries a maximum penalty of six months prison or a $5,550 fine for a first offender.

The bill, introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe, and, in a somewhat unusual alliance, co-sponsored by Nationals MP Trevor Khan, passed very, very late into the night, 61 votes for and 18 votes against.

Controversially, neither Minister for Women Tanya Davies nor NSW Minister for Prevention of Domestic Violence Pru Goward supported the bill.

Davies argued that while the harassment must stop, the penalties imposed were "excessive, disproportionate and out of step with comparative legislation in NSW," while Goward -- who is pro-choice -- went with the largely male and Liberal Party argument that this goes against free speech.

Many, many more MPs who supported the bill expressed their deepest concern for those facing harassment.

“I struggle to think of any other health facility or situation where you would be harassed or intimidate just because you have gone there to seek professional advice,” said Labor MP Jenny Aitchison.

So-called ‘sidewalk counselors’ have regularly harassed people outside abortion clinics, including waving plastic fetal dolls at them, handing out pamphlets, calling them “murderers”, and telling them there is another way.

“This intrusive behaviour is nothing short of mental torture and unwanted harassment,” said Labor MP Kate Washington in parliament today, quoting an anonymous woman who had sought an abortion at a clinic in Albury that is notorious for attracting harassment.

Supporters also directly addressed the 'free speech' concerns of those against the bill. "You have a right to your opinion, but equally the women and staff accessing these centres have a right to do so," said Ms Aitchison.

Several MPs also spoke about the myriad of reasons a woman or person might be seeking an abortion, including to minimise the risk of cancer, escape domestic violence, to terminate an unwanted pregnancy as a result of sexual assault, or to undergo the devastating medical procedure to “finish off” a miscarriage.

Greens MP Tamara Smith used her time to remind parliament that abortion has yet to be decriminalised in NSW.

“Abortion offences still sit in the NSW crimes act and are only accessible via legal loopholes and workarounds,” she said. “It is the great unfinished business of this parliament.”

It comes one day after reports that Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, who is on medical leave, was making calls to state MPs urging them not to support the bill.

His office provided "no comment" on those reports.