ALHR supports the introduction of safe access zones in NSW to stop harassment at abortion clinics and calls for the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW

May 19, 2018

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has expressed strong support for the creation of ‘safe access’ zones surrounding reproductive health services clinics as a way of protecting and promoting the human rights of women accessing essential health services.

The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill 2018 was introduced in the NSW Legislative Council this week as a private members bill co-sponsored by the Hon Penny Sharpe MLC and the Hon Trevor Khan MLC. It would create safe access zones of 150 metres around abortion clinics to protect women and staff from harassment and abuse when they enter clinics at which abortions are performed. Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and the Northern Territory have all successfully introduced safe access zones around reproductive health clinics.

ALHR President Kerry Weste said, “Women seeking abortions and staff working at these clinics report routinely experiencing harassment and intimidation from anti-abortion protestors outside the clinics. Such behaviour infringes on women’s right to privacy and dignity when accessing health services. We strongly support safe access zones around abortion clinics as essential to the protection of women and girls and the staff who care for them.”

“Safe access zones do not deny groups or individuals the opportunity to express their views. UN human rights bodies as well as courts in similar countries such as America and Canada have all found that sensible measures to ensure safe access to women’s health services do not unreasonably limit the right to freedom of expression and assembly.”

“Under international law and under most jurisdictions, the right to freedom of speech has never been an unqualified right. By contrast, access to safe and legal abortion services, in accordance with human rights standards, is part of a State’s obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, and to ensure their right to health and other fundamental human rights.”

However, ALHR notes that should the bill pass ironically abortion will remain a criminal offence punishable by up to 10 years imprisonment under the NSW Crimes Act. Weste said, “ALHR strenuously renews its calls for the NSW Government and the opposition to immediately introduce or support legislation to decriminalise abortion in NSW. While abortion providers operate in New South Wales, they exist within an ambiguous legal space, and as a result, access to services is limited.”

“The reality is that 81% of Australians believe a woman should have the right to choose whether or not she has an abortion and that between half and one quarter of Australian women will access an abortion service in their lifetime,” said Weste

Weste continued, “The current NSW laws are archaic and not reflective of community values or of internationally recognised human rights principles. The United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the Special Rapporteur on the Right to Health, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the Committee on the Rights of the Child have all declared access to safe and legal abortion is a fundamental human right for women and girls. Those who seek abortions should not be treated as criminals or subjected to harassment and intimidation.”

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