Australia's solicitor-general and four state solicitor-generals have formally intervened in a High Court case brought by a Victorian anti-abortion picketer who was convicted of breaching the state's safe-access zones.
Religious picketer Kathy Clubb, a mother to 13 children, became the first person in Victoria to be charged under laws that were formally passed in November 2015 and make it illegal to protest within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.
Clubb was found guilty in October last year of one charge of prohibited behaviour within a safe-access zone and fined $5,000, for allegedly approaching a couple outside East Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic and trying to hand them pamphlets in August 2016.
Clubb has appealed her case to the High Court where her lawyers will argue that safe-access zones violate the Australian Constitution’s implied freedom of political communication.
Her case is one of many "strategic cases" assisted by an Australian Christian Lobby (ACL) initiative, the Human Rights Law Alliance — a team of Christian lawyers who fight to protect "religious freedom and fundamental rights in the courts of Australia".
Australia's solicitor-general and the attorneys-general of New South Wales, Western Australia, South Australia and Queensland have all made submissions to the High Court in support of safe-access zones.
"There is no evidence that Ms Clubb's conduct involved political communication,
a submission signed by Australia's solicitor-general Stephen Donaghue, argued.
In a submission filed on behalf of NSW attorney-general Mark Speakman, the government argued Victoria's safe-access zone law was compatible with "the maintenance of the constitutionally prescribed system of representative and responsible government", and that the zones were not designed to inhibit political communication but communications "designed to deter clients from having an abortion, which is a personal and private medical choice".
Legislation to enact safe-access zones around abortion clinics in NSW successfully passed through the upper house of the state's parliament last week.
A submission from Queensland's solicitor-general Peter Dunning argued that Clubb's actions were not, "even on the broadest definition", expressing a political message.
"It's purpose was, rather, to dissuade a particular woman from having an abortion," the submission, from a state which does not itself have safe-access zones, reads.
"The appellant's communication was directed to influencing a woman in her capacity as a private individual, not in her 'capacity as fellow citizen and voter'."
The solicitor-general for South Australia, Chris Bleby, argued: "The type of communication the subject of the offence committed by [Clubb] – in this case offering 'help' to women who are considering abortion, including by offering counselling, or information regarding alternatives to abortion – does not comprise political communication."
Peter Quinlan, the solicitor-general for Western Australia, a state in which women entering this Perth clinic are approached by anti-abortion picketers and handed "show bags", argued that the inability to engage in behaviour within 150 metres of an abortion clinic, in a manner that is reasonably likely to cause alarm or distress to people, "does not prevent any person from putting a message that they best consider will have the greatest impact on public opinion or 'political or legislative change' in relation to abortion law and health policy".