Abortion clinic protesters hold high ground

A FORUM last night on how to ban protesters outside an Albury abortion clinic was told 10,000 signatures were needed to table the issue in State Parliament.

And Albury councillor David Thurley said that because it was an issue so entrenched in freedom of speech law, it might have to be heard by the High Court.

More than 100 people attended the meeting at St Matthew’s Church in Kiewa Street, convened by retired medical specialist Dr Pieter Mourik and Women’s Health Goulburn North East chief Susie Reid.

The council had earlier told Dr Mourik and Ms Reid the issue was beyond its power and the signatures of 10,000 NSW citizens were needed before Parliament would listen.

“I’m sure if this community is angry, as I hear it is, we’ll do it,” Dr Mourik said.

“Anyone interested in women’s privacy and the right to enter a legal medical practice without obstruction or intimidation, please sign.”

Dr Mourik and Ms Reid spoke of creating a groundswell of support, similar to the one in Indi during last year’s federal election that elected independent candidate Cathy McGowan.

They handed out petition forms for supporters to seek signatures.

Albury police was represented and Cr Thurley was joined by Cr Daryl Betteridge and Cr Ross Jackson.

If representatives of The Helper’s of God’s Precious Infants, who protest weekly outside the Englehardt Street clinic, were there, they remained silent.

Cr Thurley said the issue was beyond the council, even though most of its members agreed the protests should not be allowed to continue.

And the issue could be beyond the scope of the state government.

Cr Thurley said in November, the Tasmanian Parliament had passed laws restricting the right to protest within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.

But senior law lecturer Michael Stokes, from the University of Tasmania, had since said in an opinion piece published on journalism website The Conversation that such a law involving freedom of speech may not be valid.

Christian groups have not ruled out a High Court challenge.

Cr Betteridge urged the protesters to hold their vigils elsewhere.

“I do not believe a woman making a life-changing decision should be harangued or berated,” he said. “I thought zealot behaviour was well past us as a nation.

“The appropriate location to protest is a public area that does not inhibit people.”

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