Anti-abortion protesters could be jailed for picketing abortion clinics under 150-metre ‘safe zones’ legislation passed by New South Wales parliament.
The lower house debate went into the night on Thursday, before passing its final hurdle. It cleared the upper house last month.
The bill, co-sponsored by Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Trevor Khan of the Nationals, will also make it offence to film staff and patients without their consent.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian voted in favour of the bill and allowed government MPs a conscience vote.
“The intent of the bill is to ensure that women have safe access to those medical centres, so obviously on that principle that’s why I’ll be supporting the bill,” she told reporters.
Notably, Minister for Women Tanya Davies opposed safe access zones.
Families and Prevention of Domestic Violence Minister Pru Goward also opposed the bill, despite being pro-choice, citing concerns it would curtail free speech.
Ms Goward is the former minister for women and sex discrimination commissioner.
Supporters of the bill said the appropriate place to protest was outside parliament or another public space, instead of hindering or harassing those seeking reproductive healthcare.
“We are simply setting boundaries around places where women are undergoing some of the most difficult experiences of their lives,” Labor’s Jenny Aitchison told parliament.
“We are saying no to violence, harassment and intimidation against women. We are drawing a line between private decisions and the public opinions.”
Deputy Premier John Barilaro said if you believe in the power of prayer, anti-abortion people can do that from the comfort of home.
He said he attended a clinic when he was younger with a partner and that experience still sticks with him today.
Supporters of the bill said it was not about abortion, which is still regulated under the Crimes Act in NSW, but about the right to safely access healthcare with dignity and privacy.
The self-appointed ‘sidewalk counsellors’ often carry confronting and inaccurate pictures of aborted foetuses. Staff, patients and their partners report being intimidated or even threatened as they “walk the gauntlet” to clinics.
Protesters sometimes block entrances at clinics, most of which also deal with miscarriages, vasectomies and the insertion and removal of IUD contraceptives.
Ms Sharpe said safe access was a “small but important” progression for women in the state.
Mr Khan said politicians had an opportunity to fix an issue that should have been dealt with long ago.
“This is something that has to happen,” he told reporters.
He would not be drawn on questions about reports his federal Nationals colleague and former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was lobbying state MPs to oppose safe access zones.
Philip Donato of the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party (SFF) confirmed he would vote for the bill after polling Facebook users.
More than 19,000 voted in his poll, intended for his constituents in Orange, with 78 per cent of voters urging him to support the bill.
Marie Stopes Clinic nurse unit manager Kitty Grozdich and supporter of the bill said she, her staff and patients were often subjected to harassment on their way into the clinic.
“We are also exposed to an unsafe workplace when we are harassed and abused walking into our normal work day,” Ms Grozdich told reporters.
“There is a woman who is standing about 20 metres from me, right now, and last week she told me that I’m going to hell.
“She says that she prays for me. I don’t need her prayers. I just need her to go away.”
Anti-abortion protester Elisabeth Fanning said she believed she should have the right to speak to people on their way into abortion clinics.
“It’s vital that people like myself who want to support these women in difficult situations are able to do that and offer support,” said Ms Fanning, a We Support Women spokeswoman.