Canberra abortion clinics to get protest-free 'privacy zones' as laws pass ACT Legislative Assembly.
Anti-abortion protesters will not be allowed to congregate outside ACT medical clinics under new laws passed by the Legislative Assembly. The Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015, introduced by the Greens in July, establishes privacy zones around approved medical facilities. People wishing to protest, hold vigils or interact with visitors to the facilities will not be allowed to enter the zones at certain times of day.
Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury said women should be entitled to access the services without fear.
"This is fundamentally about a woman's right to medical privacy," he said.
"And the right to access a safe and legal medical service without being harassed in any way."
He emphasised legislation was not an anti-protest law.
"People should be able to protest this issue ... I invite them to come to the Legislative Assembly," he said.
But Opposition Leader Jeremy Hanson said he had concerns about potential restrictions on free speech.
"I accept that there are limitations on free speech that are applied in our community and our legislative instruments," he said.
"But we need to find the right balance ... we have a view that the balance is slightly different, I suppose in a sense towards free speech.
"And that's an issue that we think is a fundamental tenant of the Liberal Party."
The Liberal Party moved to amend the bill to allow for peaceful protest, but was unsuccessful.
The new laws passed with the support of the Labor Party, which suggested minor amendments specifying a minimum exclusion zone of 50 metres and a change of commencement date.
The amendments were quickly accepted.
"The limitations on human rights in this bill are proportionate and justified," Health Minister Simon Corbell said.
New laws receive mixed community reactions
Angela Carnovale from the Women's Centre for Health Matters said exclusion zones were a welcome solution to a longstanding problem.
"The ACT Right to Life Association has been meeting to protest outside [these facilities] for the past 16 years," she said.
"Even silent vigils convey judgement, and that's felt very acutely by women accessing termination services."
But Right to Life spokesperson Bev Cains said the group had always been quiet and non-intrusive.
"We've never approached anyone," she said.
"No-one has never been harassed, there have been no complaints lodged.
"That kind of peaceful protest should be allowed."
It will be at least six months until exclusion zones come into force in the ACT.