Proposed Exclusion Zone Legislation in NSW
*Update this Bill will not be voted on this week (June 22nd) but has been delayed due to the budget and other matters til later in the year.*
The Summary Offences Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2017 was first introduced by Labor Member of the Legislative Council, Ms Penny Sharpe at the end of March. The Bill seeks to enact 'exclusion zones' for 150 metres around medical clinics that provide abortions. If passed, it will be unlawful to approach and communicate with people about abortions in this 150-metre zone. It is expected that that Bill will be voted on sometime later this year.
We all agree that no woman should be harassed, intimidated or coerced into a decision about abortion. Nor should a woman be prevented from accessing appropriate health care. This, however, as some would make out, is not the real issue at the core of this bill. More accurately, this bill is an attempt to silence the assistance of those who gently offer information and support for women to consider another way to support the life of her baby. We know from the narratives of so many women who have attended abortion appointments (at abortion providers such as Marie Stopes an affiliate of Planned Parenthood International) that these providers do not offer holistic care and alternatives to an abortion.
This legislation is an attack on freedom of speech and the right to assemble.
To be pro-woman is to ensure that she is truly informed about the decisions she is making for herself and the life within her. We know for example that many women regret their abortion decision and some subsequently suffer negative health such as psychological illness. Those seeking the introduction of exclusion zones want to silence any possibility of women possibly hearing that there can be negative consequences of abortion for women and their unborn children.
To say that a member of the public who is silently praying without intervening can no longer do this is also an infringement on the right to assemble. We have already seen in other places where this legislation has been introduced, for example in the ACT that members of the public have been fined for silently praying alone, not protesting or prohibiting women from entering the clinic.
For those concerned about the perceived approaches of some sidewalk counselling we already have laws in the State against intimidation and harassment. Nor is it legal for individuals to block entrances to clinics or physically prevent a woman from entering. These practices should not occur and are not life-affirming supports to women in crisis. There are however many effective ways of providing supports and services to women without adding further trauma to women facing an abortion decision. Many lessons have been learnt over the years about best practice and effective techniques for sidewalk counselling. We can continue to learn from the experiences of others in other places around the world of how to gently and effectively give women in this situation another option.
Please sign this petition now asking that the Members of the Legislative Council do not support this bill. Please ask your friends and family in NSW to also sign to show strong opposition to this bill. We will send your signatures to Members of the Legislative Council prior to the vote to show solidarity and strong objection to this legislation.