All Australian women have the right to access health services without being criminalised or harassed

June 3, 2019

South Australia

Australia’s leading association of human rights lawyers has welcomed a current South Australian Law Reform Institute (SALRI) review of laws relating to the termination of pregnancy.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) President Kerry Weste says, “New South Wales and South Australia are the only remaining states where women face the prospect of criminal penalties for seeking or accessing an abortion. These laws are not reflective of the majority of community values or of internationally recognised human rights principles.”

“While South Australia was the first Australian state to liberalise access to abortion through amendments to the Criminal Law in 1969, since then it has not kept pace with the majority of Australian states and territories by removing criminal penalties prescribed by law for unlawful abortion.

“Access to safe and legal abortion services, in accordance with human rights standards, is part of Australia’s international legal obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, and to ensure their right to health and other fundamental human rights.”

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

Western Australia

Western Australia has been urged to pass legislation to create ‘safe access’ zones surrounding reproductive health clinics as a way of protecting and promoting the human rights and safety of women accessing essential health services.

The Western Australian Department of Health has invited feedback on a proposal to introduce safe access zones around premises providing abortion services. Victoria, Tasmania, the Australian Capital Territory the Northern Territory, New South Wales and Queensland have all introduced safe access zones to protect women and staff from harassment and abuse around facilities where terminations are performed.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (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. This behaviour infringes on women’s right to privacy and dignity when accessing health services. ALHR strongly supports safe access zones around abortion clinics as essential to the protection of women and girls and the staff who care for them.”

“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 is part of Australia’s international legal obligations to eliminate discrimination against women and girls.”

Ms Weste continued, “Safe access zones do not deny groups or individuals the opportunity to express their views. The High Court recently confirmed the constitutional validity of safe access zone legislation in Victoria and Tasmania. United Nations 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.”

Read ALHR’s submission to the Western Australian Department of Health here.

Read ALHR’s submission to the SALRI Inquiry here.

Contact: Matt Mitchell, ALHR media manager 0431 980 365.

ALHR was established in 1993 and is a national association of Australian solicitors, barristers, academics, judicial officers and law students who practise and promote international human rights law in Australia. ALHR has active and engaged National, State and Territory committees and specialist thematic committees. Through advocacy, media engagement, education, networking, research and training, ALHR promotes, practices and protects universally accepted standards of human rights throughout Australia and overseas.