Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access Zone) Bill 2015

Ms GRALEY (Narre Warren South) — I am pleased to make a brief contribution to debate on the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access Zone) Bill 2015 this afternoon. I begin by referring to an article in the Age with the headline ‘Safe access to abortion clinics must be granted’ by Susie Allanson and Emily Howie. They said:

This week the Victorian Parliament should seize the opportunity to end more than two decades of daily harassment of women. For too long, women attending abortion clinics have run the gauntlet of intimidation and harassment just to see their doctor.

This is effectively what this is about — women accessing medical treatment. They should be able to do that without harassment and without any form of intimidation. I would like to commend the Minister for Health for bringing this very carefully drafted and balanced bill before the Parliament, and I also applaud the work of Fiona Patten in the upper house for progressing this bill into this Parliament.

As I have said, this bill has very clear objectives. It is about the right of women to access legal medical treatment safely and privately without being hindered, harassed or intimidated. I find it a little bit difficult to accept when we hear at this time in this Parliament people who should be representative of the community talking in a very belittling way about the capacity of any woman to make this decision for herself. Any woman has the capacity to make a decision about what she can do with her body. I would like to say that the decision to have an abortion, I imagine, is not an easy decision. It is a difficult decision. Many women who make that decision seek the advice of experienced and professional counsellors, the views of their husband and family and the advice of their girlfriends when they come to making that decision. They do not need ‘conversations with people on the way’, I think it was called, to having that treatment. They do not need spiritual counselling, as one email to me referred to it as. And they do not need helpers along the way either. This is a difficult decision, and every woman can make this decision for herself. But also this is not what happens. I refer to the Supreme Court decision, which says that this is what women experience when they go to the clinic in East Melbourne:

jostling and striking people passing the area and entering the clinic;

making offensive, frightening and misleading statements to patients and staff;

engaging in loud singing, praying and shouting, clearly audible in the clinic;

intimidating and harassing patients of the clinic, with the effect of deterring patients from attending the clinic; and

causing significant injury to the personal comfort of staff members, patients and others.

And we read in the Age last week of a staff member who deliberately has to take a different route home every night so that people do not follow her to her home. This is harassment; this is intimidation; this is bullying of the worst kind.

I would just like to address the issue of the 150-metre safe access zone, if I may. The reason why the decision has been made for 150 metres is that a safe access zone of less than 150 metres would not adequately protect patients and staff accessing or leaving premises which provide abortions. The health services have reported that anti-abortion protesters identify from a significant distance women who are likely to be approaching a health service to have an abortion. This is on the basis of the body language of the woman, the fact that she may look lost and be taking stock of her surrounds — she is preparing herself for a significant event and a significant treatment. Health services state that once a potential patient is identified, anti-abortion protesters will subsequently walk up and intercept the woman in the car park abutting abortion clinics, when she is alighting from tram stops and cars or when she is parking and walking to a clinic from neighbouring streets. These women are being hunted down because they want to go and have a medical treatment.

Health services have stated that for these very important reasons of safety a safe access zone of less than 150 metres would mean that these patients would continue to be subjected to harassment, intimidation and in some cases — in a lot of cases — verbal abuse. It is for this reason that consultations have taken place to make sure that this bill is a good bill and that it is a balanced bill that will protect women, and the perimeter of 150 metres and beyond will hopefully protect patients and staff accessing and leaving premises that provide abortions as well as the rights of the individuals to express their views and beliefs outside that safe zone.

If you have a view on this issue, there are plenty of forums in which to express that view, but do not intimidate, do not harass, women on their way to receiving legal medical treatment.

I will finish on the basis of the Age editorial headed ‘Women should not be bullied over abortion’. It finishes — and I think it is a nice way of putting it:

Our wives, sisters, daughters, mothers, lovers and all deserve the best care and security that this state can provide when they most need it.

I commend the bill to the house.