Politics

NSW Parliament Is Considering Finally Banning Protesters Outside Abortion Clinics

Let's just get it done.

NSW Parliament is about to consider a bill that would ban protesters outside abortion clinics, and experts are urging politicians to just get it done this time.

A bill introduced today by Labor MP Penny Sharpe would establish a safe access zone in the 150-metre radius around reproductive health clinics where abortions are provided in NSW. If the bill is passed, anti-abortion protesters found harassing anyone inside that zone could face fines or even jail time of up to 12 months. Parliament will start to debate the bill next week.

This isn’t the first time NSW Parliament has considered such a bill — just last year, it voted down a similar piece of legislation introduced by Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi. Today’s bill is a bit different, though. For one, it was co-sponsored by Sharpe and Nationals MP Trevor Khan, suggesting that it may actually have cross-party support, unlike Faruqi’s bill, which did not secure a single vote from Coalition members.

Today’s bill also does a lot less than Faruqi’s, which attempted to remove abortion from the Crimes Act in NSW as well as establish safe access zones. Sharpe’s bill would ban protesters but keep abortion in the criminal code, which in practice means it’s only an option if a doctor believes the alternative would be serious mental or physical harm.

The upshot is that Sharpe’s bill has a much better chance of actually passing Parliament. It’ll still be close, though, so experts are banding together to urge politicians to vote in favour of it.

Leading human rights and health organisations including Fair Agenda, the Human Rights Law Centre, the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, the Public Health Association Australia and national family planning organisation Marie Stopes have sent an open letter to NSW MPs today expressing concern about harassment outside of abortion clinics and outlining the case for change.

“All people should be able to access the healthcare they need safely, with dignity and in privacy,” they wrote.

“Yet patients and healthcare workers across NSW are being harassed and intimidated as they enter reproductive healthcare facilities. There are reports of people being jostled, yelled at, and even filmed outside abortion clinics. This is unacceptable by any modern standard.”

“No person should have to fear a gauntlet of harassment and intimidation just to see their doctor about a personal medical decision.”

Parliament will debate the bill next week. You can add your name to Fair Agenda’s petition to MPs here.