Page 3156 - Week 10 - Thursday, 17 September 2015

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While the wording of the bill does not explicitly offer an exemption as such for media outlets, it details the circumstances around this issue in a way that is designed to respond to media concerns. The final bill before us makes it clear that in relation to the publication of visual data there must be an intention to stop someone from accessing these services for there to be an offence committed.

The Human Rights Commission, in its public submission, stated that it considers that the introduction of appropriately defined exclusion zones around abortion clinics will improve the ability of women to access legal medical services in safety and privacy and strengthen protections against discrimination. Concerns about this issue have been regularly raised with the Health Services Commissioner.

While acknowledging the limitations this bill places on various rights, it is recognised that few rights are absolute, and in accordance with established international human rights norms, reasonable limits may be placed on the right to freedom of expression and related rights with the aim of balancing competing interests. The commission’s submission further states:

The commission commends the bill for recognising and seeking to remove some of the practical barriers women face in exercising their right to lawful reproductive services. In our view, the bill will assist to protect the ability of women to exercise autonomy and freely make important decisions without undue influence or coercion. It is well established that safe and accessible reproductive health services are an essential component of protecting and promoting women’s human rights.

The intention of this bill is to ensure free and unfettered access to health services for women, not to curtail law enforcement actions relating to protests or reporting of the issues, and I trust the amendments I have made make this clear.

The exposure draft also raised some questions regarding the standard of “reasonably necessary” being an appropriate threshold for triggering an intrusion on human rights. I have taken this feedback on board, and the relevant section now reads “no bigger than necessary”.

Civil Liberties Australia, another organisation that members may not expect to support this bill on principle, also provided a broadly supportive submission. I quote from their submission:

Civil Liberties Australia regrets the need to restrict public protest activity but, in this case, we believe protest activity against abortions would be more appropriately carried out by directing protests towards lawmakers at the parliament building rather than the users of abortion advice and procedure services at the medical facility. If protestors genuinely want the legality of the advice or services challenged then moving their protest to parliament should not undermine their cause.

They go on to state:

We congratulate the Greens ACT on seeking to work with civil society to develop legislation that recognises the tension between rights in this instance.

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