Banning Harassment and Intimidation of Women outside Reproductive Health Clinics

Jenny spoke in support of implementing safe access zones outside of reproductive health clinics in NSW.


Ms JENNY LEONG (Newtown) (12:03): I speak on behalf of The Greens in debate on the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health) Bill 2018. The Greens support the bill. I acknowledge the member for Port Macquarie for introducing the bill into this place, and it is absolutely true when she said that today is the day to protect women in New South Wales. While I and The Greens may have very strong views on what we should be doing about abortion law reform in this State, about protecting human rights and women's rights, the bill before us today is a simple one. It is about providing women with the ability to access health clinics, abortion clinics, and with the right to safe and accessible health expertise without being harassed, intimidated or bullied.

It is clear that that is what this bill is about, and I would urge all members who are listening closely and contemplating their decision to understand that. It is about making sure that women are not faced with harassment and intimidation when they undergo the most personal procedures that one could ever imagine. I inform members of the recent situation when I was pregnant and found myself in my local public hospital. It is confronting to be engaging with the reality of being pregnant and having contractions in a public hospital when people know you are the local member. It was a joyous time, a little traumatic and a little bit intense—it was a five-day labour and not the most pleasant of experiences. The reason I share that is because that situation was a positive and wonderful experience, and the reality of having people know what was happening to me at a very private and intimate time—even though it was a joyous time—was confronting.

I have had the other experience as well, and I have had to engage with other discussions around having a termination. I know that these are decisions that women make with a lot of personal consideration and discussions with the people closest to them and with medical experts and people who are advising and supporting them. When a woman makes that decision—whether to seek guidance and support in a women's health clinic to be able to have a child, or to have a termination—the idea that any individual thinks that it is appropriate to harass and intimidate her and her support people as they walk into the clinic, or the professionals who work in the clinic, is completely unacceptable. That is what we are discussing today. We seek to provide a level of support and protection to those women, their families and support people and to the people who work in the clinics so that they do not face that harassment and intimidation.

As members of Parliament we sometimes face harassment and intimidation as we walk into this place. The right of freedom to protest and to peaceful assembly is something that I will always protect. But there is no article in any United Nations convention that enshrines the right to harass or intimidate women. I encourage any members who are speaking against this bill to bring in the details of any United Nations convention or covenant that sets out the right to harass or intimidate women, because I would be interested to see that. As we have heard, the substance of this bill creates offences for the following actions within the 150-metre safe access zones: For interfering with access of persons to reproductive health clinics; obstruct or block a footpath or road leading to any reproductive health clinic; making a communication that relates to abortions that is reasonably likely to cause distress and anxiety; and capturing and distributing visual data of persons without their consent. It is clear that all of those acts would be abhorrent and should be punished. Women should be able to be free from that kind of harassment and intimidation.

The electorate of Newtown did have a number of clinics, but there is one clinic on Devonshire Street that has been the focus of much discussion. I mention that specific clinic because it is not just the women and the support people entering the clinic who experience harassment and intimidation. Devonshire Street—when it is not the focus of a large amount of light rail construction—is a busy thoroughfare for many people in Surry Hills walking to Central Station. There is trauma inflicted not only on the people accessing the clinic but also on residents who, on their daily commute, have to walk past the images and the intimidatory practices on that street. It is confronting for many people and the harm caused is not acceptable.

Richard from Redfern wrote to me, supporting the bill, and stated:

I work on Devonshire Street and these people always block the footpath and are rude and aggressive.

These are not the words of a woman who has made a serious decision about access to reproductive health services; they are the words of a man who does not believe this behaviour is acceptable. Other members have provided examples of the impact this harassment and intimidation is having on women.

It is clear from this debate that many organisations, groups and people have been consulted. Fair Agenda, the Country Women's Association, GetUp!, the Human Rights Law Centre, the Women's Electoral Lobby, the Australian Medical Association (NSW), the National Association of Community Legal Centres and many others all support safe access zones. This legislation is the culmination of a number of campaigns and a great deal of work to ensure that women's safe access to reproductive choices is on the agenda.

I acknowledge that the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Hon. Trevor Khan have been in the gallery of this Chamber to observe some of this debate. I also acknowledge my Greens colleague Dr Mehreen Faruqi, who introduced a bill in the other place designed to remove abortion from the Crimes Act 1900 and to progress the debate about women's access to safe reproductive choices in New South Wales. I urge all members to focus on what we are considering. We are saying that women accessing reproductive health services and abortion clinics should be able to do so without fear, harassment or intimidation. That is the purpose of this bill and that is what we should be ensuring as members of Parliament. If we cannot pass legislation to protect women and to ensure that they are free from harassment and intimidation when they access legal and professional health advice, what are we doing here?

I conclude by reminding members that last year this Chamber unanimously supported a motion I moved recognising that we support women's rights to make choices that are right for them. That includes respecting their right to access safe and legal abortion. As I said, that motion was passed without dissent. I said during that debate that I appreciate that individual members may choose not to access an abortion. However, it is our duty to respect the fact that women have the right to choose what is in their best interests, and it is a woman's right to access professional reproductive advice.

By supporting this bill, we are saying not only that a woman has those rights but also that she has the right to do so free of harassment, bullying, intimidation or fear. She has a right to do so safely and in a way that does not cause her harm when she is doing one of the most difficult things she could ever do. I urge all members to recognise that that is the only purpose of this bill; it does nothing else. By supporting this bill, members will be saying they will protect women in New South Wales so that they are able to live free from harassment and intimidation. I commend the bill to the House.

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