Expert Opinion: NSW Gov is enabling harassment. Abortion clinics need Safe Access Zones now.

Tomorrow, the NSW upper house will vote on the introduction to 'Safe Access Zones' to shield women from harassment outside abortion clinics.

Every week, women in NSW face harassment and intimidation by anti-abortionists outside reproductive healthcare clinics.

Women are told they are murderers, forced to look at graphic images, and made to listen to misleading and medically inaccurate claims about the dire consequences that await them inside the abortion clinic.

People have been hurt when anti-abortion behaviour has turned violent. Most tragically, in 2001 an anti-abortionist murdered a security guard outside the East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic.

How has this sustained abuse of women continued for so many years, in broad daylight?

Physical harm is only one part of the picture though. Many women are psychologically harmed by the gauntlet of abuse, intimidation and harassment they’re forced to run to see their doctor. The harm can be long-term and the threat of having to confront anti-abortionists at their next appointment can mean some women delay or avoid important follow-up care.

How has this sustained abuse of women continued for so many years, in broad daylight, in a modern society very aware of the damage caused by the pervasive scourge of gender-based violence? In short, the law does not adequately protect against the abuse.

But there is a sensible and straightforward way to stop the harassment and abuse – the creation of safe access zones around abortion clinics. The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics) Bill, introduced into the NSW Legislative Council today, would do precisely that.

NSW Parliament has a chance to show it cares.

Already, in Tasmania, Victoria, the Northern Territory and ACT, safe access zones exist to stop patients being harmed when trying to see their doctor. Similar protections exist in the United States and Canada. In England, the first safe access zone was created just this year and others are likely to soon follow suit.

The New South Wales Parliament now has its chance to show the NSW community that it cares about every person’s safety, privacy and health.

The bill before the NSW Parliament, co-sponsored by Labor’s Penny Sharpe MLC and the Nationals’, Trevor Khan MLC, is an example of cross-party collaboration and leadership. We need more of it on this and many other issues concerning fundamental human rights.

Recently, the Albury council handballed the decision to create a safe access zone around a local reproductive health clinic to Parliament. NSW women shouldn’t have to depend on local councils to protect their basic rights.

This bill would see sensible safe access zones guaranteed in law and operating consistently around all abortion clinics in NSW. It’s now time for all members of the NSW Parliament to lead and take responsibility for ensuring safe access to healthcare for all members of the NSW community.

Adrianne Walters is a Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre. Renee Carr is the Executive Director of community campaigning group Fair Agenda.