Controversy over abortion clinic safe zones heats up

Creating safe zones around abortion clinics is unnecessary according to pro-life groups.

The Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill, in the name of Labour MP, Louisa Wall, (pictured) will make it illegal for pro-life protesters to wait outside clinics.

The Bill will create a 150-metre perimeter outside healthcare services.

Within this area, no one would be allowed to intimidate, interfere with or obstruct a person entering the clinic.

Failure to keep outside the abortion clinic safe zones would make the offender liable for conviction or a fine of up to $1000.

Abortion Rights Aotearoa president Terry Bellamak says the Bill is “huge” as currently people are not protected from harassment outside abortion clinics.

“People shouldn’t have to stand up to bullies in order to get healthcare.

“There’s no reason why people using reproductive health care should have to do that.”

Bellamark says almost everyone she has spoken to who has had an abortion spoke of the dread they felt heading into the service, and the fear of being heckled by pro-life protesters who often set up outside clinics.

“Nobody knows the stories of the people walking in – not that anyone should judge anyone for healthcare decisions but it’s especially harmful and hurtful for people losing a wanted pregnancy to have people outside the clinic calling them a murderer.”

Bellamak added now that abortion has been removed from the Crimes Act so there is no validity to protesters.

“Until last year, abortion was illegal. It was only lawful under certain conditions and that gave a false veneer of validity to these protests. But trying to infringe on someone’s healthcare decisions – There’s nothing political about that.”

However, Right to Life says the Bill is unnecessary.

There’s no need to create legislation to protect people from harassment, the pro-life group says.

The Summary Offences Act provides protection against any person engaging in harassment or intimidation.

They also take issue with the suggestion that people praying outside clinics are considered “bullies”.

“The zones around abortion clinics are already safe”, they say.

“The people who gather and offer support outside clinics are law-abiding citizens. These are peaceful, compassionate and quiet vigils.”

Kate Cormack, the spokesperson for another pro-life group, Voice for Life, says the Bill will set a “dangerous” precedent by restricting the “fundamental rights” of freedom of expression.

“As a woman, (it is) my right to protest, my right to engage in the public sphere – for me to possibly be fined and arrested for doing what I’ve done for many years – for that to be on the line is really frightening.”


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