Jessica Syed and Maddy Ward
The mid-semester break has been as busy for students as the past few weeks have been for those who have been pushing for safe access zones around abortion clinics in New South Wales. The amendment to the current Summary Offences Act, proposed by Penny Sharpe MLC, would make it so that it would be a criminal offence to protest within one hundred and fifty metres of any NSW abortion clinic. This would alleviate the intimidation and harassment patients are subject to when going to abortion clinics, when there are hoards of pro-life protesters attempting to stop them from entering the facilities. It would also get rid of the unnecessary burden placed on clinic staff to counsel and reassure patients, something that they are not necessarily paid (nor qualified) to do.
Abortion is an issue of public health, and access to abortion clinics an issue of public safety. No one should be precluded from accessing essential healthcare due to strangers intruding on their personal space, in order to voice their opinions. The successful passage of the proposed bill is an important stepping stone in building a solid and visible movement around abortion rights. In our opinion, it will inevitably open the door to decriminalisation of abortion in New South Wales (yes, that’s right – you could still be prosecuted for having an abortion).
Your officers have been in contact with Family Planning NSW who are currently looking at drafting a decriminalisation bill along with other feminist groups. More pressing, however, is our correspondence with Penny herself. In a conference call last week, she informed us that the bill will be introduced and debated within the next month. Keep your eyes peeled for actions organised by the Wom*n’s Collective that you can get involved in helping the bill get passed. If you’re a Liberal/conservative/et cetera, and you’re against abortion, and you’re reading this: while this bill is linked to abortion, it largely revolves around women’s safety. If you can’t get behind that, well, there’s not much we can say to you. Otherwise, get in touch with your MPs, and get them on our side, please!
To help, sign the petition http://www.pennysharpe.com/womenneedsafeaccesszones. Or even better, join the Wom*n’s Collective if you identify as a wom*n or non-binary person, by hitting us up at email@example.com. We have a weekly clinic escort service where (until the legislation comes through) we assist patients into abortion clinics past pro-life protestors, and generally do feminist things as well. We are also doing our own edition of Honi Soit later this semester. Send your ideas to the aforementioned email! We can’t wait to get the ball rolling.