The bill to legalise safe access zones for abortion clinics was passed overnight but no thanks can be extended to the Minister for Women, Tanya Davies.
An amendment to the Public Health Act, the passed bill will establish 150-metre “safe access zones” around abortion clinics. It will now be illegal to barricade and berate women accessing clinics or record them without their consent.
A controversial provision has also been adopted to make “a communication that relates to abortions, by any means”, or that could cause “distress or anxiety” to a person accessing or leaving a clinic illegal.
The legislation is aimed specifically at “side-walk counsellors”– pro-life advocates who are known to stand outside abortion clinics in protest.
Davies, who is pro-life herself, supported side walk counsellors last night saying they were people who provided women entering clinics with information to make a “truly informed decision”.
“They are providing the other pieces of information that some women choose to accept. They don’t force their views onto these women. They are offering simply another choice,” she said.
Labor MP Penny Sharpe, who co-sponsored the bill, said she was “very disappointed but not surprised” that Davies had taken such a stance.
— Penny Sharpe (@PennySharpemlc) June 7, 2018
Breaching these laws carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail for a first offence and 12 months in jail for subsequent offences.
The bill’s passage was preceded by a lengthy debate where more than 40 MPs spoke on the issue. Despite pushing for a conscience vote, Premier Gladys Berejiklian supported the bill as did Nationals leader and Deputy Premier John Barilaro.
Health minister Brad Hazzard, spoke in favour of the bill, saying that though he believed abortion should be a “last resort” women should be able to access services “without any concerns at all that others would seek to impose those views on you at your most vulnerable time”.
Those supporting the legislation argued the right of women to access sensitive medical services free from interference, while those in opposition argued the bill impeded the right to free speech and protest.
Penny Sharpe welcomed the news as a “terrific day for women in NSW and the staff that work in reproductive health clinics”.
Greens MLC, Mehreen Faruqi underscored to Junkee there was still much work to do. “We still have unfinished business in this Parliament. We need to decriminalise abortion, which is the crux of the issue of lack of access for women and people who are seeking abortion services,” she said.
“We need to remove that stigma and criminality.”