WE SAY: Protection of women at clinics does nothing to interfere with free speech

In the end it was resounding. 

After hours of debate, the decision to back safe zones around abortion clinics in NSW passed the Lower House in the early hours of yesterday with a landslide vote of 61-18. It was a passionate debate, but not a close call.

For the people of Albury, this significant decision is the final sentence in an odyssey that was never going to come to an end without the intervention of lawmakers.

Speaking in support of the bill, Albury MP Greg Aplin said the time had come for protesters outside the Englehardt Street clinic to move on.

He indicated to his parliamentary colleagues that gatherings of pro-life proponents in Albury had been unfairly portrayed by some. It is true the protesters in Albury have always maintained that they were not there to harass women, they were there to help. But their actions have always spoken a little louder than their words.

The behaviour hit an all-time low in 2011, when the group set up a camera to film the comings and goings at the clinic - arguing it was for their own protection, and “not meant to intimidate women”. Many of the behaviours this group has demonstrated over the years “weren't meant to intimidate women”, if you asked them. It would have been closer to the truth to say “we don't mean to intimidate women ... but we can't help it if that's the consequence of what we do”.

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This is why lawmakers had to step in. There was never going to be a compromise on this issue, there was never going to be a middle ground. 

Yes, people are entitled to free speech. The introduction of safe zones does nothing to undermine that right.

Giving people some parameters around where they can exercise free speech is a long way from telling them that they have no right to free speech.

And what of a woman's right to medical privacy? We must assume that those who argued against safe zones on the basis of free speech consider that a woman's right to medical privacy comes, at best, secondary to that. Why? Why is it that her right is not as important as the right of protesters to have their voices heard? The truth is, it is not.

This was never a debate about abortion. It was only ever a debate about the right of a woman to seek a legal medical procedure without the obstruction and intrusion of strangers, an issue one could say warrants no debate at all.