The NSW Upper House Just Voted To Establish Safe Access Zones Outside Abortion Clinics
"This is not a matter of left versus right -- it is a matter of common decency."
The NSW upper house just voted in favour of a bill to establish 150-metre safe access zones outside reproductive health clinics, taking a huge step towards ensuring people can access abortion safely and without fear of harassment.
The bill, co-sponsored by Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, aims to ban anti-abortion protesters from setting up within 150 metres of reproductive health clinics that provide abortion in NSW, with fines and even potential jail time for protesters who breach the zone. The bill will now be considered by the lower house, and will become law if it’s passed there also.
Pro-choice and anti-abortion protestors gathered outside Parliament this morning ahead of the vote to attempt to sway MPs on the issue. In the chamber, Khan tried to persuade the chamber to instead see the legislation “not as a matter of left versus right — it is a matter of common decency”.
Khan stressed that protesters outside abortion clinics do not provide the counselling they say they’re offering, but instead harass vulnerable people seeking medical care. Reminding his colleagues that Victoria’s parliament recently voted for similar legislation, he noted that “they saw this as a necessity for the safety, dignity, and privacy of women”.
Great to join the @FairAgenda protest this morning in support of safe access zones for women and everyone accessing reproductive health services. Fingers and toes are crossed #nswpol pic.twitter.com/6pNSy0Bi4G
— Mehreen Faruqi (@MehreenFaruqi) May 23, 2018
— Mich-Elle Myers (@MichMyersMUA) May 23, 2018
Greens MLC and longtime abortion rights advocate Mehreen Faruqi used her speech to debunk myths about abortion, saying it was time to put these “into the dustbin of history” and instead “come together and vote for legislation that gives medical privacy”.
Of course, the bill was also met with fierce opposition from a number of MPs. Liberal Lou Amato argued that anti-abortion protesters are in fact “caring women” who are simply educating people who might not know other options exist. Christian Democratic Party senator Fred Nile also offered some blatantly false “facts” about abortion that honestly don’t deserve further airtime.
This is not the first time NSW Parliament has considered implementing safe access zones outside reproductive health clinics. Last year, a bill by Faruqi was voted down in the upper house, despite having the support of health experts. That bill went much further than today’s, also seeking to remove abortion from the Crimes Act in NSW.
Today’s bill still needs to be approved by the lower house, and even if it’s passed there it won’t change the fact that abortion remains a crime in NSW except in very specific circumstances. It will, however, help ensure that people seeking reproductive medical care, including abortion, are able to access those services with dignity, free of harassment. That’s a huge step forward.