Victoria backs protest-free zones at abortion and fertility clinics

The announcement comes after Sex Party MP Fiona Patten introduced a private member’s bill that would ban protests or placards within 150 metres of clinics.



Health Minister Jill Hennessy says the government will review Ms Patten’s bill and introduce a revised version, or their own bill, by the end of the year.


Every morning staff and patients at the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne arrive to see anti-abortion protesters holding posters and giving pamphlets to those entering the building.


Dr Susie Allanson has worked there for 24 years and says it can have severe psychological effects on staff and women entering the facility.


“You do have this sense that you’re unsafe. The extremists don’t have a sense of how inappropriate their behaviour is. They say that they’re counselling, they’re praying, that’s all. They don’t appreciate that what they’re actually doing is experienced by women as really very threatening.”


The East Melbourne clinic has experienced the dangers of anti-abortion protesting.


In 2001, a security guard named Stephen Rogers was murdered at the clinic by anti-abortion campaigner Peter James Knight.


“After the murder of our security guard we advocated, we were working our butts off trying to get someone to listen to us, someone to bring in safe access zones. I think back then we kind of felt like this lone voice in the wilderness.”


The Victorian government has now indicated it will introduce legislation by the end of the year to establish a protest-free zone around abortion and fertility clinics in the state.


The bill will be modelled on a private member’s bill introduced by Sex Party MP Fiona Patten, which aims to prevent protesters heckling, displaying protest materials, or recording patients and staff within a 150 metre radius.


Ms Patten says physical protection is essential.


“What we need to just ensure is that women can get off a tram, can park their cars and they can have some space where they are not going to be harassed, or intimidated, or challenged with offensive posters. And the staff as well, can safely get to work and get to the clinic.”


But anti-abortion groups believe the introduction of such laws would infringe their right to free speech and free assembly.


Dr Katrina Haller, from anti-abortion group Right To Life Australia, says the protesters are not harassing women or acting aggressively.


“We’re not doing anything defamatory. There are limits on freedom of speech but we are offering these women help. I’ve been outside the Wellington Parade abortuary. I’ve said we can you offer you something better than what this place can offer you.”


Ms Patten, however, is confident that there is support for buffer zone legislation.


She believes if the Victorian law is successful, it could see other states move to introduce similar bills.


“There certainly are conversations around this type of legislation in all states because every state has the same problem of people being harassed and intimidated, so I suspect once this legislation gets up we will see other states follow.”


If passed, Victoria would become the second state to establish safe zones for abortion centres, after Tasmania did so in 2013.