Page 3855 - Week 12 - Thursday, 29 October 2015

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The Labor government members believe this is the right balance—a proportionate response that allows for protest on what is often a divisive social policy issue to continue to occur, but not to occur in a manner that impedes the legal right of women to access pregnancy termination services in a respectful and non-intimidating manner. The Labor government members will be supporting this bill this morning.

MS BERRY (Ginninderra—Minister for Housing, Minister for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Minister for Community Services, Minister for Multicultural Affairs, Minister for Women and Minister assisting the Chief Minister on Social Inclusion and Equality) (12.16): As the Minister for Women and as a woman, this issue has been very present in my mind during this year and for many years. I have had many discussions with members of the women’s and community sectors in the past few months. There was great concern about the situation at the city community health centre and the wellbeing and privacy of women accessing services there.

That is why I have been concerned to ensure that the voices of women, and particularly young women, are clearly heard throughout this conversation. That is why I presented the view of some 725 people to the Assembly on Tuesday morning. That document, which was developed by the Women’s Centre for Health Matters and Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, offered very clear support for this bill.

While acknowledging the need to consider carefully the impact of privacy zones on the right of freedom of expression, the view of these people was very clear—that a woman’s right to access termination of pregnancy services in privacy, without harassment, intimidation or humiliation, is critical. Establishing a privacy zone outside relevant health facilities will provide the reassurance and security to women, their families and the healthcare staff which they are entitled to.

I would also like to reflect on the public debate around this issue since it rose in the public consciousness in about March this year. I wrote at the time to the representatives of the prayer group who gather at the city community health centre and asked their views to be directed at us, the lawmakers, not at the women accessing reproductive health services. This remains my very strong view and that of the government.

The passage and enactment of this bill will give legal effect to our position. It provides legal protection for women to be free from harassment or intimidation as they access health services in what are incredibly difficult personal circumstances. Ideally, of course, the use of this law in the community will be minimal. The debate around a woman’s right to access reproductive health services will continue, as it has done for a long time.

Protests have taken many forms, including those which may appear quite passive but are no less confronting for those that they target, which is why the government will not be supporting the opposition amendment which would undermine the effectiveness of this bill.

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