A pro-abortion bill that seeks to criminalise offering women support near abortion clinics in New South Wales does not put women first, warns the Australian Christian Lobby.
“Mothers deserve all the support they can get, especially when they often face pregnancy alone. Criminalising the offer of compassionate support for women entering abortion clinics is not a step forward,” Australian Christian Lobby spokeswoman on the rights of women, Wendy Francis said.
ACL NSW director Kieren Jackson said the bill proposed by Labor member Penny Sharpe sought to put in place 150-metre “exclusion zones” around abortion clinics, criminalising the offering of support to expectant mothers within that zone.
“It is deeply concerning that Ms Sharpe’s bill makes no provision to introduce independent counselling before procuring an abortion and also criminalises those who want support women through these challenging circumstance,” Mr Jackson said.
“Limiting access to support and not requiring critical independent advice does not support any woman seeking to make an informed decision.
The bill comes at a time when the constitutionality of similar exclusion zone legislation has been challenged in both Victoria and Tasmania.
Two cases that are now before the High Court involve the challenge of anti-free speech exclusion zones around abortion clinics. The cases will be heard jointly and the outcome may rule legislation like the Sharpe Bill ineffectual.
“It is concerning how the ideological push by Ms Sharpe may force the New South Wales Parliament to vote on new laws, the substantive issues of which are currently before the High Court.” Mr Jackson said.
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Cases before the High Court
The case of Clubb v Edwards and Attorney General of Victoria involved a woman convicted in the Melbourne Magistrates Court of prohibited behaviour within an exclusion zone by communicating about abortion in a way that can be seen or heard. The prohibited behavior was the offering of support to a person entering the clinic by handing her a leaflet. Clubb then appealed the matter to the Supreme Court of Victoria. In the meantime, an application to have the matter heard in the High Court was supported by the Victorian Attorney-General and the High Court has now taken up the case.
A second case, Police v Preston and Stallard  TASMC involved a man who was convicted in the Hobart Magistrates Court of prohibited behaviour within an exclusion zone by protesting abortions. Preston appealed to the Supreme Court of Tasmania. Approval was granted for the appeal to be heard by the full bench of the Supreme Court, but the hearing was delayed. The High Court has taken the case up and will be heard jointly with the Clubb case.
According to a recent Queensland Galaxy Poll independent counselling is desired by 90 per cent of voters.
Research on reasons for abortion
An independent study compiled for Women’s Forum Australia shows most women and girls who have abortions do so because of a lack of support from partners, parents and friends. The study found 70 per cent of women say they felt they had no alternative to abortion.
- Selena Ewing, Women and Abortion: An Evidence-Based Review,2005; a meta-analysis of Australian and international research on why women have abortion, compiled for a Women’s Forum Australia parliamentary submission.