Abortion groups at odds over safe access zones

EMMA DILLON

Pro-choice groups have welcomed the introduction of proposed new legislation to
decriminalise abortion and implement safe access zones around clinics in Queensland, but anti-abortion protesters say it will lead to unwanted abortions.

Pregnancy test

The new Bill would modernise the laws so pregnancy termination becomes a health issue rather than a crime. Photo: Canva stock image

The Queensland Government introduced the Termination of Pregnancy Bill 2018 to parliament on August 22.

The Bill is based on the Queensland Law Reform Commission’s detailed review of current legislation, and repeals sections of the Criminal Code which currently make terminations a crime.

In a statement on August 22, Queensland Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Yvette D’Ath, said the Bill would ensure Queensland women had reasonable and safe access to termination services, by establishing “safe access zones”.

“150 metre safe access zones will protect the safety, well-being, and privacy of both patients and employees,” Ms D’Ath said.

Pro Choice Queensland Campaign Coordinator Sinead Canning said the number of anti-choice protesters outside of clinics has increased exponentially since the Queensland Government announced their intention to decriminalise abortion and implement safe access zones in July.

“Following the announcement by the Queensland Government, we had protesters outside two of the Brisbane clinics all day,” Ms Canning said.

“Within these past few months there’s been a group of protesters that have appeared outside of the clinics that are increasingly aggressive in their tactics when trying to persuade or harass essentially any clients going into the clinics,” she said.

Project 139 is an active anti-abortion group, whose Facebook page details their actions in targeting Brisbane abortion clinics.

Tom and Andrew, who declined to give their surnames, are part of the Project 139 group and said they regularly attended Brisbane clinics to counsel women about options other than abortion.

Protesters outside abortion clinic

Protesters approach women with anti-abortion information outside a Brisbane abortion clinic. Photo: Emma Dillon

Andrew said their group was very much against the proposed law changes, and in particular the implementation of safe access zones.

“One of the things we’ve seen, and one of the things that’s very frustrating about this bill, is watching women be coerced into these clinics,” he said.

“The safe access laws, you would say that they are there to protect women, but what about the women that are being coerced?”

Research published in the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals’ journal, Contraception, suggests that reproductive coercion is an issue, but suggests it is more likely to take the form of behaviours to promote pregnancy, including birth control sabotage.

In a statement, Minister for Health and Ambulance Services Steven Miles said a number of claims regarding abortion had been circulating the community and said a new fact checker had been launched by Queensland Health to help to set the record straight.

“The termination of pregnancy is a health issue and we want Queenslanders to have the facts – just like any other medical procedure,” Mr Miles said in the statement.

“I know there are varied points of view on this issue, I know that some people feel very strongly about abortion,” he said in the statement.

“It’s important that Queenslanders know the truth, which is why we are launching the online Fact Checker as a central location for them to find the answers.”

Marie Stopes Australia provide termination and other family planning services, and have two clinics in Brisbane.

Marie Stopes Australia CEO Michelle Thompson said she welcomed legislation to decriminalise abortion and implement safe access zones.

Ms Thompson said clinic staff had seen the tactics of protesters intensify, becoming more organised and employing US-style evangelical Christian rhetoric.

“Our clinic in Brisbane is often targeted by picketers who harass and intimidate not only the patients, but also our staff,” she said.

“We’ve actually seen their activity change over the last 12 months and we’ve seen it escalate.”

“They try to hand out leaflets and cards to patients as they enter the premises, particularly they hand them baby booties.”

Both Tom and Andrew disagreed with any comparison between the coercion they described and the methods employed by anti-abortion sidewalk protesters.

“Technically it’s not manipulative, it’s information, if information is manipulative then it’s manipulative for a reason,” Andrew said.

“Illuminating information to realise that it’s more than just a clump of cells, that you lived that stage as well, is important knowledge,” he said.

“If you’re saying that a baby has a beating heart at three weeks, that’s accurate.”

“Our methods are first ideological and spiritual, and not physical or emotional,” Tom said.

The Queensland Director of pro-life lobby group Cherish Life, Teeshan Johnson, said that protesting outside of abortion clinics is not endorsed by their organisation.

“We have never, and will never, arrange or endorse any protesting outside of abortion clinics. This is simply not our positioning,” Ms Johnson said.

“Some of our membership are people of faith who like to quietly and peacefully pray outside abortion clinics – we support their democratic right to do so,” she said.

“Similarly there are individuals who in good faith, with a good heart like to provide support to women in the form of gentle and peaceful sidewalk counsellors.”

“In theory we support such peaceful actions, the emphasis is on peaceful – although not a function of Cherish Life Qld.”

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