Last Thursday, the NSW Legislative Council passed the ‘Safe Access Zones’ Bill with 26 votes for and 12 against. The bill will now proceed to the Lower House, where if passed it would criminalize any person who offers an alternative option to a woman entering an abortion clinic. ‘Bubble zones’ of 150 metres, such as we have already seen implemented in Victoria, would act to stifle free speech and put an end to sidewalk counselling. The bill was denounced as ‘seriously flawed’ and ‘poorly designed’ by opposing members of Parliament.
The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox described the bill as ‘a blunt instrument with a range of unintended consequences’. A scenario repeatedly raised was that of a woman entering a clinic along with a reluctant partner/parent: if the accompanying person were at any time to question the decision or merely to ask, ‘Are you sure you are happy with this decision?’ they would be liable for prosecution under the terms of this bill. He pointed out that law enforcement is already entrusted with ‘keeping the peace’, meaning that they already possess the authority to disperse any disruptive or unruly individuals.
Questions regarding the constitutionality of the bill were also frequent. The Hon. Matthew Mason-Cox cited the case of Kathy Clubb, a mother of 13, who was arrested under the similarly constructed law in Victoria. Her case is expected to be heard by in the high court later this year, where the constitutional implications of the bill may be examined.