Women will soon be able to safely and privately access abortion health services in Western Australia after landmark legislation finally passed through state parliament.
Advocates have expressed relief and described the passing of the legislation as “historic” and “momentous” for the nation, with WA the final jurisdiction to adopt such laws.
The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill provides for 24/7 safe areas, which will also include any space within 150 metres of the boundary.
Banned behaviour within the zones include:
Offenders face a maximum penalty of $12,000 and 12 months in prison.
Camera IconMany people have participated in protests around the country over the years, pushing for safe access zones. Mathew Farrell Credit: News Corp Australia
“One of the important legacies of the McGowan government is ensuring that patients should be able to access healthcare with privacy, dignity and respect,” Health Minister Roger Cook said.
“For far too long, women had to run the gauntlet of people outside abortion clinics.
“It is already a difficult and intensely personal decision without having to encounter a protest before undergoing a legal medical procedure.
“I would like to thank everyone involved in helping this law pass through both houses of parliament.”
Women’s Interests Minister Simone McGurk described the passing of this legislation as a “significant moment for women in this state”.
“It brings Western Australia into line with the rest of the country,” she said.
“Women have a right to access legal medical services without fear of intimidation or harassment, and the appropriate safeguards will now be in place around clinics.”
Interest groups have also welcomed the legislation, which has been long-awaited after the it failed to pass the upper house before the state election last year.
Human Rights Law Centre associate legal director Adrianne Walters said it was a historic day.
“The intimidation and harassment of people seeking abortion care outside of health clinics is now banned around the nation,” she said.
“We have seen in other parts of Australia that safe access zones play a critical role in promoting equality and every person’s right to access healthcare safely.
“No one should have to run a gauntlet of abuse just to see their doctor. These laws will ensure that no one is harassed or filmed by strangers as they walk to their doctor’s door for essential reproductive healthcare.”
Ms Walters also called on the state government to take the “next step”.
“Modernise and decriminalise the state’s abortion laws, which are outdated and causing harm,” she said.
“Access to a safe, legal abortion is a healthcare right. The McGowan government must remove all barriers to timely reproductive healthcare in Western Australia.”
According to health provider Marie Stopes Australia, picketers spend more than 2000 hours per year outside their Midland clinic.
Nurse unit manager Leigh Keane said the passing of the law was a relief.
“Patients can now safely come in without being judged and without being intimidated out the front of the clinic,” she said.
“It gives them clear access to the healthcare that they’ve decided that they want or need, depending on their circumstances, and they are no longer being influenced by outside people on the day, minutes before they walk through.
“It also provides safety to staff, and even to our neighbours, who have to witness the behaviour week after week. Our whole community was being affected.”
Marie Stopes Australia managing director Jamal Hakim described it as a “momentous day for human rights” in the nation.
“Unfortunately there is a lot of underlying stigma around abortion rights and access, and this is a significant step in recognising the distress of women and staff when accessing a clinic,” he said.
“We’re grateful the WA government has kept its commitment to legislate safe access zones and that it will be illegal for picketers to harass staff.”
Mr Hakim also called on the state government to increase access to abortion care.
“Currently, the criminal code still regulates abortion and there are significant outdated hurdles in accessing abortion care, which still need to be addressed,” he said.Internet Explorer Channel Network