Safe access zones for healthcare in NSW, despite the best efforts of those who should be the strongest advocates

The good news is that NSW will introduce 150-metre protest exclusion zones around women's health clinics. This legislation passed late last Thursday night.

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Rewind to January 2017: Premier Berejiklian had just announced her new cabinet, including the Minister for Women, Tanya Davies. Sucked in by a sensationalist headline about Davies being pro-life, I watched a brief interview, prepared for the worst.

I was relieved; the minister said women should be supported in whatever choice they make, and she made it clear that her "pro-life" stance applied only to herself.

What bothered me was the very next comment, from Berejiklian jumping in to confirm that no changes to abortion law were being considered: "The status quo is what our government supports." What is that status quo? Abortion is still a crime in NSW.

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Back to the present: the exclusion zone bill revealed these MPs' sympathies (although not necessarily their motivations). Berejiklian, who allowed a conscience vote, voted in favour, while Davies voted against.

Notably, Pru Goward (Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, former Minister for Women, former Assistant Health Minister, and former Sex Discrimination Commissioner) also voted against the bill to improve access to healthcare.

Those who voted against the bill generally cited concerns about a loss of free speech. But the new legislation is not a heavy-handed solution looking for a problem; NSW residents seeking to access healthcare—and the clinic staff who provide it—have reported harrassment on the footpath and now have recourse against it.

Goward also insinuated that the restrictions introduced by the bill would be "unpecendented". Surely it was mentioned during the debate that similar laws exist in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT and the NT? In these juristictions, safe access has not heralded a "long march towards intolerance and the destruction of Western freedom."

Davies, on the other hand, made her decision on the basis that she saw the anti-abortion protesters as "sidewalk counsellors" who provide an alternative suggestion. It is astounding if the minister truly believes that someone seeking an abortion has not considered the alternatives.

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Congratulations to the people of NSW, who have won a little more freedom to go about their medical business without fear of intimidation, and the small but real threat of serious physical violence.

Let's always keep up the pressure on those elected representatives who should be our biggest advocates to do their job.

 

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