Safe Access Zones to Protect Women’s Rights
Written by Maddy Crehan
Abortion has been legal in Victoria since 2008, and is legal to some extent in all Australian states and territories. However, Tasmania is currently the only state with legislation that ensures safe access zones around abortion clinics in order to protect women from being harassed by protesters. But this is all about to change.
A few weeks ago Sex Party MP Fiona Patten introduced a private members bill looking to create similar laws in Victoria. Though the issue was debated in Parliament, there has been little resistance against the change. Labor have offered to put forward their own bill, and many Liberal women MPs have expressed their support for women’s rights, which means that legislation will most likely be introduced by the end of the year. This is a huge step forward for Victoria – one that should be embraced and mirrored by the rest of the country.
Many groups who congregate outside medical clinics that offer legal abortions, claim it is their constitutional right to “freedom of political communication”. The actions and levels of abuse from these groups differ widely. It is common for women to be filmed or photographed, which intrudes on their right to privacy, some women are even threatened with online public shaming. Many women have shared stories of being confronted with conspiracy theories about the intentions of abortion clinics or shown horrific images of deceased foetuses (which are grossly inaccurate depictions of abortion).
In 2001, anti-abortion protester Peter Knight took 16 litres of kerosene, torches, gags and guns to a clinic in East Melbourne and murdered a security guard, all in the name of his beliefs. This is of course an extreme scenario, but there is an undeniable tone of violence and disregard for women underlying nearly all anti-abortion protests. I believe that people have the right to peaceful protest, but this is in no way peaceful – it is a form of harassment and abuse.
It is impossible for these protesters to know the specific circumstances of each woman seeking an abortion. They don’t know the conditions under which the conception occured, they don’t know whether the woman is capable of supporting a child, they don’t know if the pregnancy is life-threatening, and they certainly don’t understand the difficulty of the decision to undergo an abortion. In some cases, women who aren’t even seeking an abortion are being aggressively approached for attending these facilities for other pregnancy-related services.
Abusing vulnerable, often very young, women shows a severe lack of understanding and empathy towards their situation. Clementine Ford, a public advocate for the pro-choice debate states “shaming [women] for making a choice that has been clearly thought through and is informed by a huge range of possibilities is mean-spirited and hateful.” A former clinic employee also gave an insight into this experience recalling “girls are followed right up until they walk through the door and it was not uncommon for them to burst into tears as soon as they walked into the waiting room”.
No matter what your view on abortion is the fact of the matter is women have the legal right to seek medical assistance and be able to do so discreetly and privately without harassment. As Women’s Centre for Health Matters health promotion officer Angela Carnovale states the right to protest should not impede on any woman’s right to access healthcare. And in doing so is not furthering the debate on this issue, but rather creating unnecessary anxiety and stress for women who are already facing an incredibly personal and difficult decision.
This is not an issue of freedom-of-speech; it is about creating a safe, harassment free environment where women can exercise their right to access healthcare.
To learn more about the abortion debate in Australia check out our post on reproductive rights.
Maddy regularly writes for Rosie, and is passionate about music, history, art and gender equality.
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