Australia

Abortion advocates urge NSW to 'take next step' after new safe access laws

0:00

Reproductive rights activists have praised the passing of the new ‘safe access abortion zone’ laws in New South Wales, but say they would like to see abortion completely decriminalised.

After a mammoth sitting which saw testimony from over 40 MPs, the New South Wales parliament passed the controversial amendment of the Public Health Act early Friday morning, 61 votes to 18.

The new law, supported by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, makes it illegal to communicate, film or intimidate a woman inside of a 150-metre radius of an abortion clinic.

Pro-choice advocates say the amendment will safeguard women from abuse by pro-life protesters, but there is still more work to be done.

"The battle isn't over,” Adrianne Walters, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, told SBS News.

“Abortion is still regulated by criminal laws over 100 years old in NSW. While women can have an abortion in certain circumstances the laws cause fear and confusion, and they tell women they can't be trusted to make decisions.

“It's time for NSW to take the next step and remove abortion from the criminal code."

Demonstrators in favour of safe buffer-zones around NSW abortion clinics stand outside the NSW State Parliament building in Sydney, Thursday, May 24.
Demonstrators in favour of safe buffer-zones around NSW abortion clinics stand outside the NSW State Parliament building in Sydney, Thursday, May 24.
AAP

Conscience vote

State Nationals MP Trevor Khan, who voted in favour of the proposal, said the premier granted the government a conscience vote - where MPs vote according to their own personal beliefs, rather than party policy.

"We were all given a conscience vote and all of us had to come to a decision in our own way as to whether we supported it, or didn’t,” Mr Khan told the ABC.

“The debate last night was respectful, it was thoughtful - and in the end, it was successful."

The bill was also supported by Nationals leader John Barilaro, who told parliament he visited an abortion clinic with a woman 27 years ago and spoke of the anxiety the experience provoked.

"When you actually attend you're scared, the fear is already inside you," Mr Barilaro said. "By the time we arrived at the clinic, it was too late to change our mind."

Labor MP and co-architect of the bill Penny Sharpe said she was "pleased and relieved" MPs across the political divide supported the bill.

Opposition

The amendment was opposed by both the NSW Minister for Women, Tanya Davies, and the Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, Pru Goward.

Ms Davies said the laws did not distinguish between sharing information and harassment.

"I believe that the bill will be counterproductive to the object of women having choice by denying support and informed choice to vulnerable women when they need it the most," she told parliament.

"I believe the penalties imposed by the bill are excessive, disproportionate and out of step with comparative legislation in NSW.”

The Minister for Women Tanya Davies opposed the bill.
The Minister for Women Tanya Davies opposed the bill.
AAP

Ms Goward said it was an attack on freedom of speech.

"My position I know will please no one, but it is the position of my conscience," she said.

President of the Christian Democratic Party Reverend Fred Nile said earlier on Thursday the amendment’s passing would be “totalitarian”.

He added he does not think most pro-life protesters are causing harm.

“They’re mostly women, Christian women, who are very loving and caring. So there’s no bullying, no threatening,” he told 2GB radio.

“[Those] opposed to the bill are standing up for people’s rights, their freedoms.”

Ahead of the vote, embattled former deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce reportedly called state Nationals MPs to lobby them into rejecting the proposal.

Mr Joyce reiterated his opposition to abortion earlier this week in his paid interview with the Seven Network, in which his staffer-turned-partner Vikki Campion revealed she considered having an abortion after becoming pregnant with Mr Joyce's child.

Eyes turn to Victoria

It comes as similar safe access zone legislation in Victoria is due to come before the High Court later this year.

The court will determine whether banning communication inside the safe access zones breaches constitutional rights to freedom of political communication.

Ms Walters believes both sets of legislation strike the right balance.

“We think they are a really sensible way to protect these really vital interests of women,” she said.

“They protect the rights of women to privacy, safety, and dignity. They don't stop people from expressing their views outside these safe access zones.

“We await the High Court’s decision on the Victorian laws.”

Safe access zones akin to those in Victoria and New South Wales exist in the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania.

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch