Cartier Masthead Final Weeks

Abortion without judgement

HerCanberra Team

Why Canberra women need privacy zones…

Seeking an abortion is often a difficult experience, and one women have the right to do without judgement or intimidation. Unfortunately, many Canberra women have previously come face to face with “pro-life” protestors outside areas where these services are provided.  

But this could soon change, with the ACT government now calling for the introduction of “exclusion zones”, which could see protests banned within 150 metres of abortion clinics. Here, Angela Carnovale from the Women’s Centre for Health Matters tells us why privacy zones are so important.

In March this year ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury announced that he would look into legislation to create a privacy zone to ensure women are able to access health services — such as seeking an abortion — in privacy.

This privacy zone, also known as buffer zone, access zone or exclusion zone, will place a bubble around services that provide abortion services. The purpose of the bubble is to ensure that women seeking to access abortion services can do so without harassment, intimidation or humiliation.

In creating a privacy zone, the task of Minister Rattenbury is to look at the rights that we have, as members of this community and balance them against each other. The right that we have to access termination services without harassment, intimidation or humiliation needs to be weighed against the right that we have to freedom of expression. The question we need to ask is whether the proposal reaches the right balance between these competing rights.

Tasmania introduced similar zones in 2013. Their legislation created a 150 metre access zone around premises at which terminations are provided. It was recognised in the Tasmanian discussion that while the access zones restricted where the Tasmanian equivalent of Right to Life could express their views (for example, not inside 150m radius access zone), the law did not mean that they couldn’t express those views, just that they had to do so outside the access zone.

The Women’s Centre for Health Matters (WCHM) and Sexual Health and Family Planning (SHFPACT) support Canberrans’ unimpeded access to the health services they need, including abortion services, and believe the creation of access zones will assist.

Make no mistake, protests at the location where abortion services are provided do impede access. Research undertaken by the University of Melbourne has shown that women feel considerable distress when exposed to anti-choice protestors as they enter abortion clinics. Even the implied disapproval of protestors who do not approach women is enough to create feelings of shame and distress in women.  Abortion has been legal in the ACT since 2002, and is regulated like other health service provided by a medical practitioner to their patients.  For what other health service does the community tolerate public commentary, protest and condemnation of the individual accessing the service, regardless of their views about the suitability of the service for themselves or its necessity for others? Not for plastic surgery, not for vasectomy and not for home-based birth.

The WCHM looks forward to Legislative Assembly consideration of Minister Rattenbury’s legislation. Ahead of this, however, WCHM is interested in ensuring that ACT women’s views on this issue are heard, especially those who have been affected by the Right to Life protesters when accessing termination services. To do this, you can contact the WCHM on 6290 2166 or via [email protected].


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  • Andrew Smith

    Does it really have a chance of success, or is the Greens MP simply running his own campaign just to get some brownie points for trying?

    • Jasmin B

      As someone who has prayed outside the abortion mill a couple of times, I would encourage anyone to go and observe what actually happens outside the facility. My observations are: (i) those who hold vigil just pray their rosary and do not engage people unless they are approached, (ii) they have their posters and crucifix smashed a couple of times a year, and (iii) they are the ones getting videotaped and photographed. At one time two females pose outside for a very long time waiting to be approached – and silly me approached (I am not a regular at these vigils so did not know how things work) and very gently gave them a pamphlet and then they left, their mission accomplished. Furthermore, as other politicians have mentioned, the front entrance is not where the pregnant mothers enter.
      However perhaps this proposed bill will encourage people to again look into how the ACT has legal abortions even for full term pregnancies – yes, even at 9 months, an unborn child can be aborted in utero. See s9 of the ACT Human Rights Act 2004 which confirms that babies before birth do not enjoy the right to life and is unprotected under the ACT law. To me that is where the greatest human rights abuse lie.
      If we are really serious about women’s health, we should be asking why the otherwise very good Canberra Hospital has one of the worst maternity wards in a major Australian hospital. Could it be that having to perform late term abortions are taking its toll? In this day and age and for such a progressive territory the problems at that ward should not be occurring.

      • Not buying it

        Your God would hear your prayers just as easily if you prayed anywhere else so how about you stop pretending it is just prayer and call it what it is. You are publicly shaming people for making a choice that you don’t agree with.

        • Jasmin B

          What is to buy – no-one is “selling” a religion; pretty lousy advertising approach to do something almost everyone utterly despises and expect them to somehow be won over.
          I am not for this bill, but I sincerely hope that through discussions and debate on this bill most of us in the ACT will know what “legal abortion” means here in the ACT. It means abortion for whatever reason and at any stage of the pregnancy, even at full term (cf Germany whose highest court recognises the state’s obligation to protect prenatal life, and consequently provide much more socio-economic/ legal support and protection for women undergoing an unplanned pregnancy).
          But if by “not buying it” you mean to say you don’t agree with my description of the ACT abortion laws, or how I have described the “protests” / vigils outside the abortion facility, then I can’t help you, you have to help yourself: research the law; stand and observe the group every Friday 8-9 am on a Friday; find out the truth.

  • Ms Jennifer

    I do hope MLA Shane Rattenbury is able to have the legislation passed so the harassment and intimidation stops. It’s not before time!