As a controversial bill about abortion clinic exclusion zones was being debated in the NSW Upper House this week Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP stopped by to offer a word of encouragement to young people opposing its passage.
Labor MP Penny Sharp and Nationals MP Trevor Khan co-sponsored the ‘safe access zones’ bill saying it was intended to protect women from interference and harassment while accessing clinics.
But pro-life advocates such as the young people of the We Support Women campaign say the bill is based on a false premise and will wipe out the offering of last-minute support and information to women around the facilities.
The bill was passed in the Upper House on 24 May.
Bethany Marsh, spokesperson for We Support Women, said on Facebook that the group was “extremely disappointed that MLCs have voted to pass the ‘Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinic) Bill 2018’ on to the Legislative Assembly, despite the many flaws and objections raised during the debate.
“It is clear that this bill would criminalise peaceful, non-confrontational sidewalk counsellors whose only intention is to offer help and support to women going into abortion clinics.
“Undeniably, abortion clinics cannot be relied upon to conduct proper, independent counselling. Women like Jaya Taki have told us, from their own experiences, that they did not receive real counselling inside the clinic.
“While the supporters of this bill claim that the intention is to end harassment, they have not been able to deny that harassment, intimidation and violence are already rightly illegal under the law. This bill would do nothing to change that.
“We will continue to make the case that sidewalk counsellors should not be criminalised for peacefully offering help and support to women. We support women, and we hope that MPs will vote down this heavy-handed and deeply troubling bill when it reaches the Legislative Assembly.”
Rev Fred Nile MLC told The Catholic Weekly that in years of attending pro-life events outside abortion clinics in Sydney and Albury he had never seen women attending them being harassed or intimidated.
“The people that are there are mostly women, and are very loving, very caring, very kind.
“So this bill by Penny Sharpe is based on falsehoods and there’s no need for the legislation because it’s already covered in legislation in our law dealing with aggressiveness, intimidation, and threats.
“It’s all covered and the police should act on that.
“The fact the police have not acted in Sydney or country towns indicates that there’s been no requirement for the police to charge anyone.
“So the bill is all based on a false premise and Penny Sharpe’s imagination about what is happening outside abortion clinics – it’s just not true.”
Jocelyn Hedley, a member of the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants explained in a speech at an event organised by We Support Women that it is not a protest group.
“We do not hold placards, block doorways, chant slogans…We have, in fact, adhered closely to all that has been asked of us.
“To be accused of harassing women, of hindering and abusing them is anathema to me—and indeed to all of us.
“To engage in ‘verbal abuse’ as she says, or ‘physical harassment’, goes completely against all that we hope to achieve. Our aim is to assist women: how can we do this if we are verbally abusing them? How can we do this if we are physically harassing them?
“Indeed, it is rare that those actually entering the abortion facility exhibit hostility.
“Hostility, when it happens, tends to emanate from those passing by, who operate under a complete misconception of what it is they are doing, fuelled by fictitious media reports and bills of the nature of which we are dealing with that present.”
The Legislative Assembly is set to debate the bill in early June.