A Christian was recently fined for praying silently in Canberra’s CBD. The legislation preventing free speech in the vicinity of abortion clinics raises questions about the freedom of political communication and religious freedom, including prayer itself. Does your party believe the current legislation regulating free speech adequately ensures our fundamental freedom of political communication and our ability to respectfully communicate these ideas publicly?
An ACT Greens Bill was passed in the Legislative Assembly in 2015 that saw the creation of privacy zones around medical facilities that provide abortion and reproductive services.
The Greens were pleased that, with the passing of this legislation, women will be able to access what is a safe and legal medical procedure without being confronted, harassed or intimidated.
While the small but dedicated group who gather outside the ACT’s abortion clinic may not be as confronting as the more violent and distressing protests that were occurring in Victoria and New South Wales, these gatherings are clearly designed to deter or dissuade women from undertaking the legal procedure.
While the ACT Greens do respect individuals’ rights to hold strong views on any matter, we cannot support any behaviour that intimidates or causes fear or distress towards a woman who may already be in a difficult time. In the development of this bill we sought to provide a balance between providing safe, unimpeded access for women, whilst not unduly impeding on the rights to freedom of speech. This legislation does just that, defining specific prohibited material, a defined proximity where activity is prohibited, and specified time restrictions on activity. The limitations do not prevent a person from protesting in other places or outside the times specified. This is fundamentally about a woman’s right to medical privacy, and the right to make choices about her own health.
Labor is committed to ensuring women can access the medical services they require without the risk of harassment, intimidation or judgement by others. The regulatory framework is designed to prevent protest or behaviours that increase emotional distress or may prevent women from accessing legal and medically recognised health procedures. This was developed in consultation with key stakeholders, such as the ACT Human Rights Commission and ACT Policing, to ensure the right balance between protecting a woman's right to access safe and legal healthcare, and the right to protest.
Access to approved health facilities that provide services in relation to sexual health, and the planning and termination of pregnancy is legal in the ACT. Legal medical services must be available to access in privacy and safety. It is reasonable to expect that political activism should be addressed at law makers, rather than individual citizens exercising their personal right to access to health care.
The Canberra Liberals share your concern about the freedom of political communication and religious freedom. We opposed the introduction of the Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015, and subsequently moved amendments that sought to maintain freedom of speech and the right to respectful and peaceful protest. Unfortunately Labor and the Green opposed these amendments, and thus they were unsuccessful.
The Liberal Democrats are a party of free speech and consider the restrictions on the rights to protest to be unacceptable. Our response to the first question above provides more detail for your members.
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