Page 2418 - Week 08 - Thursday, 6 August 2015
people, some of whom are anti-abortion, some of whom are pro-choice. The style of the protests has varied over time. Sometimes they have included emotive placards and sometimes single viewpoint pamphlets have been handed out. Irrespective of the precise nature of the protest, the fact remains that for a woman to access the medical facility on any given day may mean she is required to walk past what can only be described as a daunting and unnecessary gathering of people. I can think of no other example where this happens when people access any other legal and safe medical procedure and can see no reason why it should happen when women seek to access to an abortion.
The ACT Greens believe women should have right of entry to safe, accessible and legal abortions. It is alarming that in 2015 some women do not have access to safe and legal abortions in some states across Australia and that abortions are still considered in the criminal code in New South Wales and Queensland. Here in the ACT abortions are legal. However, consistent protests outside the ACT Health building mean that women accessing abortion services are regularly subjected to judgement, intimidation and a lack of privacy.
In March this year I announced that the ACT Greens would introduce legislation to create privacy zones around fertility control and reproductive health clinics. This came about after the archbishop joined the anti-abortion vigils that regularly take place at the ACT Health building, raising the profile and drawing unnecessary and increased attention to the building and its services. My reflection at the time—and now—is that we need to deal with this issue with finality to avoid any such future escalations. I firmly believe the archbishop and any others who disagree about a woman’s right to choose should be free to speak about their beliefs, but not where that impinges on a person’s right to access a legally available healthcare service. Necessarily, this means not outside the entrance of the health facility where women are seeking the medical services they are legally entitled to. Women—in fact, all people—have a right to medical privacy and a human right to make decisions about their own health without interference or harassment.
I strongly support the right to protest. I am sure members will make the observation when we come to the discussion that I have spent many years protesting against the exploitation and degradation of our environment. I encourage and welcome a diversity of views and opinions on issues of public interest. However, these rights are not absolute. Just as we believe in the right to free speech but not hate speech, we must defend the right to protest but not in a way that infringes on an individual’s right to access services for her own health.
In the ACT the law supports a woman’s right to choose an abortion. The services to access abortions are provided by a healthcare provider. An abortion is a health service, and all people have the right to access their health services freely and without harassment or pressure. Protecting that right is what the ACT Greens’ privacy zones legislation seeks to achieve. It seeks to do that while protecting the right to protest for those who wish to make known their views on abortion. Protecting both those rights is a balancing act, and I believe this bill gets this balance right.