Lent Picket Outside Abortion Clinics Reignites Calls for Safe Zones
6 March 2019 at 5:35 pm
Anti-abortionists commencing a 40-day picket for Lent outside abortion clinics in Western Australia have infuriated humanitarian and pro-choice charities, renewing calls for safety zones to be introduced nationwide.
According to the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), in past vigils, clinic staff have been abused by protestors, and women attempting to enter or exit the clinics have been stopped and handed rosary beads, baby booties or pamphlets containing medically misleading information.
The group, known as 40 Days For Life, who hold protests internationally, were given a permit to hold the vigil outside a Marie Stopes’ clinic in Perth, and the Nanyara clinic in Rivervale, WA from 7am to 5pm each day for 40 days.
Adrianne Walters, HRLC senior lawyer, said women should not be confronted by a decision to access private medical care.
“The activities of anti-abortionists outside clinics have caused serious distress, fear and anxiety to patients and staff. There have been a number of instances of violence outside abortion clinics around Australia, including the murder of a security guard in Victoria,” Walters said.
In 2016, members of a group in Perth told the ABC they did not harass staff or patients, and only offered financial support, counselling and baby equipment.
Bonney Corbin, Children by Choice president, told Pro Bono News that while the organisation supported the right to individual belief and expression, based on their experience in Queensland a protest like this would have a detrimental effect on all involved.
“These groups often claim they are ‘counselling’ women. However, research shows that the majority of women experiencing unplanned pregnancy say they have no need or wish to speak to a counsellor,” Corbin said.
“If a pregnant person does request counselling, they should be referred to an unbiased professionally qualified counsellor in a safe and confidential environment, not an anti-abortion protester on a public footpath.”
She said during the organisation’s QLD abortion law reform campaign in 2018, just before safe zones were introduced in the state, the organisation had to get volunteers to shield women from protestors as they walked into the building.
“We now have legislation preventing these groups from being within 150 meters of a clinic… so we are calling on the state governments to implement these laws and support women to access basic health care without enduring harassment,” she said.
Walters said it was difficult to understand why safe zones had not yet been introduced in WA, and urged the community sector to speak up on the issue.
“Safe access zones are a straightforward and sensible solution. It’s outrageous that in 2019 women in Western Australia face being harassed, blocked and filmed when trying to see their doctor,” she said.
“So much effort is going into stopping violence against women…The community sector should be calling on the McGowan government to end this insidious form of gender-based violence.”
Aside from WA and South Australia, safe access zones laws have been introduced in every other state and territory of Australia, prohibiting harassment, intimidation and filming of patients and staff outside reproductive health clinics.
While the McGowan government has promised to introduce the zones, it is yet to happen.
Jacquie O’Brien, spokesperson for Marie Stopes, said the government needed to make the promised change as soon as possible.
“It’s not the place for it. It’s also just not respectful, or decent to do something where you’re potentially infringing on not only the patient, but the staff’s privacy, and dignity,” O’Brien told Pro Bono News.
“The McGowan government has made a commitment which we really welcome, but it’s really important that action starts now.”
It comes as deputy Labor leader Tanya Plibersek announced on Wednesday that if Labor were elected in the forthcoming election, women would have better access to abortion clinics, and cheaper contraception.
“What we are proposing today is to make medical termination of pregnancy more easily available with more doctors, more primary health care providers being able to prescribe RU 486,” Plibersek said.
“We also need to make surgical termination of pregnancy easier to obtain, particularly in the public health system.”
O’Brien said she welcomed any announcement that mean women had more access to reproductive health services.
“The more options they have the better their ability to make a decision based on their privacy or their needs or whatever situation that they’re in,” she said.
But Walters said until safe zones in WA were introduced, the proposed changes would not be effective in the state.
“Safe access zones are about making sure women can access the reproductive healthcare they need without having to forgo their rights to privacy, dignity and wellbeing,” she said.
“Anywhere that abortion services are provided, women will be vulnerable until the McGowan government introduces safe access zone laws.”
O’Brien added that during the 40 days, the organisation would be appealing the protestors to go elsewhere, and encouraged the public to ask the same of them.
“We would be appealing to the people who want to protest, not to be doing it outside the clinic because it’s not the place for it,” she said.