Australia Protesting outside abortion clinics in NSW may be outlawed within a 150-metre radius

01:11  17 may  2018
01:11  17 may  2018 Source:   abc.net.au

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Protesters outside abortion clinics in New South Wales may be forced to abandon their posts, if State Parliament passes a new bill due to be introduced today.

Protesters outside abortion clinics in New South Wales may be forced to abandon their posts, if State Parliament passes a new bill due to be introduced today. Her lawyer, Lynn Moore, originally applied to ban protests within a 100 metre radius of the clinic .

In most states and territories women face the prospect of confronting protesters on their way to get an abortion.© ABC News/Angela Lavoipierre In most states and territories women face the prospect of confronting protesters on their way to get an abortion. Protesters outside abortion clinics in New South Wales may be forced to abandon their posts, if State Parliament passes a new bill due to be introduced today.

An estimated 70,000 to 80,000 Australian women terminate a pregnancy each year.

In most states and territories they face the prospect of confronting protesters on their way into hospitals or clinics.

Protesters often approach women to verbally dissuade them, sometimes using graphic imagery of aborted foetuses.

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Last night, the NSW Parliament passed a bill that will make it illegal for anti- abortion protestors to gather within 150 metres of abortion clinics . The "Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics " bill was co-sponsored in the upper house by Nationals and Labor MPs

In November 2015, Victoria became the second state to pass legislation to limit protests outside abortion clinics [6] and 150 meter buffer zones are now enforced.

But a private member's bill co-sponsored by Labor's Penny Sharpe and the National's Trevor Khan would, if passed, outlaw their behaviour within 150 metres.

The bills would make it illegal to interfere with people, photograph them, or otherwise cause them anxiety and distress as they enter abortion clinics in New South Wales.

The bill is due to be introduced to the upper house today and debated next week.

If passed, it would bring NSW in line with laws in Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT.

Unlike similar efforts in the past, this bill makes no attempt to decriminalise abortion itself, which is still considered a crime in both NSW and Queensland.

The frontlines of the abortion fight

In states where protesting outside an abortion clinic is still legal, those footpaths are at times transformed into a morality play, starring the women trying to get inside.

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Last night, the NSW Parliament passed a bill that will make it illegal for anti- abortion protestors to gather within 150 metres of abortion clinics . The "Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics " bill was co-sponsored in the upper house by Nationals and Labor MPs

The fast-tracked bill, passed on Wednesday, will create 50 to 150 - meter safe access zones around the province’s eight abortion clinics . Anti- abortion activists will be prohibited from protesting or passing out literature in these zones. Within these areas it will be illegal to advise a person not to get an

At a clinic in the inner Sydney suburb of Surry Hills, activists from both sides gather three mornings a week.

Stephen Hitchings is a regular and stands across the road from the entrance with a small group.

"We pray. We simply pray," he told The Signal.

The hands-on work of dissuading women is done by a pair he describes as "counsellors" who stand at the door to the clinic itself.

One is holding Rosary beads, next to an a-frame showing an aborted foetus, and a display of several rubber foetuses.

Mr Hitchings doesn't see it as a protest or harassment.

"For one thing, it would be absolutely useless if you're going to harass a woman, there's no way she's going to listen to what you have to say," he said.

"It's a very polite, very calm, very low-key approach that we have."

He believes their goal justifies the use of tactics such as displaying graphic imagery.

"They might seem confronting to some people, but we take the view that if it's going to save a life, then a bit of confrontation is very well worth it," he said.

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He claims they have had some success, even if it is rare.

"Most of the women will go straight past, but quite a few of them actually do stop... and sometimes change their mind," Mr Hitchings said.

He said in one case, a couple who were convinced to continue the pregnancy to term ultimately moved into his house in Enfield for 18 months.

Every time Mr Hitchings and his group show up, they have competition.

Just inside the clinic, there's a group of people who call themselves "clinic defenders".

They see their role as protecting patients from harassment outside.

Natalie Berry, 20, said they generally tried not to have too much contact with the pro-life group, who she described as "intense".

"Basically [we] just kind of stand between them and the protesters and say 'you don't have to listen to them, just ignore them', and just guide them into the clinic," she said.

Ms Berry believes the actions of protesters amount to more than just prayer and gentle persuasion.

"I would definitely describe it as harassment," she said.

When a patient eventually does arrive, both camps say their piece and the woman hurries through in silence.

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Ontario is set to outlaw anti- abortion activists from outside clinics to protect "right to choose". Anti- abortion activists would not be allowed to protest within at least 50m (164ft) of a clinic or staff residence.

The event is chaotic and tense, but it's over in less than five seconds.

Cautiously optimistic

Labor MLC, Penny Sharpe is hopeful the bill will have a better chance than its predecessors.

In 2015 a Greens omnibus bill sought the same outcome, as well as decriminalising abortion, whereas this one only seeks to establish a "Safe Access Zone".

Ms Sharpe believes its success depends on whether the Liberal and National parties agree to a free vote.

"If they give their people a free vote, we believe we've got the numbers in the parliament," she said.

The bill has been co-sponsored by the Nationals' Trevor Khan.

"I'm very confident he's got good support from his own colleagues and that there's enough of them who want to see this bill passed," Ms Sharpe said.

Mr Hitchings said from what he has heard, the bill sounds "horrible".

He hasn't decided how he'll respond if it's passed into law — he said he may just move his prayer and hymn-singing down the road.

Mr Hitchings hasn't ruled out breaking the law either.

"I normally think of myself as very much a law-abiding citizen, but if I think the law is completely unjust then I might make an exception," he said.

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