The New South Wales Legislative Assembly has passed a bill that bans pro-life activism within 150-metres of an abortion clinic 61 to 18 votes. The bill had passed the state’s Legislative Council two weeks ago meaning it will now become law. New South Wales is the third state in Australia to legislate such as laws, the others being Victoria and Tasmania.
Peneltiles include six months jail for a first offence and 12 months jail for a subsequent offence. The exact crime will be “communication that relates to abortions, by any means” in the 150m-metre zone that could cause “distress or anxiety” to someone.
The bill was a conscience vote for MPs in the major parties with Premier Gladys Berejiklian supporting while Minister for Women Tanya Davies opposed it. The orginal bill in the Upper House was sponsered by Labor’s Penny Sharpe and National Trevor Khan.
Proponents of the bill have termed the 150 metre exclusion area as safe-access zones claiming that women are harassed on their way in, some who are not even there for an abortion. Opponents have defended pro-life activists outside clinics who offer “sidewalk counselling” allowing women to make a fully informed choice about an unwanted pregnancy.
The bill also has free speech implications as it prevents on public property people advocating for a particular political viewpoint. Pro-life campaigners deny the harassment allegations and point to testimonials from women they were able to convince to keep their baby and are now happy mothers.
The main activist group opposed to the bill was We Support Women who say it will criminalize those seeking to help women and is a form of censorship. Their spokesperson Bethany Marsh stating that “MPs have just voted to criminalise women like myself, who do nothing but peacefully offer help to women in crisis. I can tell you from my own experience that we’re offering emotional, financial and other practical help that abortion clinics simply don’t. We have never harassed anyone”.
It would appear that the trend in Australia is not only to provide abortion on demand with four states fully decriminalising abortion but to control pro-life activists’ speech and only allow advice that encourages women to terminate their pregnancy. Pro-life activists have often argued that women feel pressured by those around them into an abortion but now information on alternatives is slowly being suppressed.
Certainly, the recent vote to legalise abortion in Ireland has energized the pro-abortion movement around the world and we will see similar laws proposed in other jurisdictions. How the new exclusion zones in New South Wales are enforced and how pro-life activists respond to them remains to be seen.