Legislation which would stop protests outside Albury's abortion clinic introduced to NSW parliament

End may be nigh: Protests such as these outside Albury's Englehardt Street abortion clinic, would be banned under a bill now before NSW politicians.
End may be nigh: Protests such as these outside Albury's Englehardt Street abortion clinic, would be banned under a bill now before NSW politicians.

WHALES get better protection than women seeking abortions, a Labor MP noted in introducing a bill to create exclusion zones around clinics in NSW.

Penny Sharpe today put the bill, co-sponsored by Nationals MLC Trevor Khan, to the Upper House.

She said a safe zone, to ban protests, filming and harassment, within 150 metres of abortion clinics, such as Albury’s Englehardt Street centre, was needed to protect patients.

“Women have told me their stories of what they experienced when going to a clinic,” Ms Sharpe told the Legislative Council this morning.

“I cannot believe that our laws continue to allow this public shaming, interference and gross invasion of privacy to occur.

“At the clinic in Albury, the behaviour is so extreme that the clinic has been forced to employ a security guard to ensure that people entering the clinic are not harassed by those gathering outside.”

Albury MLA Greg Aplin responded to the bill’s introduction with a call for public feedback, saying he was yet to determine which way he would vote if the proposals reached the Lower House.

"For many years I have engaged with local police, activists, concerned citizens, affected residents and with various government ministers with regard to Englehardt Street clinic,” he said.

“While I am very familiar with the views of the organisations involved on both sides of the debate, I would now like to hear more from you, the general public of Albury.”

Ms Sharpe said the bill was designed to withstand a legal challenge and strike a balance between the right to protest and medical privacy.

“In NSW the whales that are currently migrating up our coast are given 300m exclusion zones by law for their health and wellbeing,” she said.

“It is ironic that in NSW we have not been prepared to give women that same protection.”

Advocate for change: Labor MLC Penny Sharpe with Albury anaesthetist David Corbett at a reproductive rights rally in Albury in March.

Advocate for change: Labor MLC Penny Sharpe with Albury anaesthetist David Corbett at a reproductive rights rally in Albury in March.

The bill would insert a new section in the Public Health Act making it an offence to interfere with access of people entering reproductive health clinics.

“Interfere with includes harass, intimidate, beset, threaten, hinder, obstruct or impede by any means,” Ms Sharpe said.

Penalties for breaking the law would be a fine of $5500 or six months imprisonment or both for a first offence.

A second breach could result in an $11,000 fine or a year in jail.

Mr Aplin wants to know if those penalties are reasonable, but he stressed the bill was “not about whether abortion should be unlawful or lawful”.

Ms Sharpe said Mr Khan’s involvement showed access to abortion clinics was “not a left or a right issue”.

Debate on the bill will begin next week.