This Mother Wants To Stop Other Women Being Harassed Outside Abortion Clinics
The final vote on a bill to enact safe-access zones around abortion clinics in New South Wales is on Thursday.
Mother of four Mary* booked in for a surgical abortion in 2011 at the only clinic in Albury, NSW.
"I was a single mother dealing with a domestic violence situation and I had been having radiation in my uterus for endometriosis," the now 40-year-old told BuzzFeed News. "It wasn't a hard decision because there was only one option for me ... and it was the advice given to me by my gynaecologist and GP."
Mary was at eight weeks gestation (early enough for a medical termination), but despite the national ban on abortion drugs Mifepristone (RU486) and Misoprostol being lifted in 2006, no pharmaceutical company had successfully applied to import and distribute them in Australia until 2012, which left surgery as her only option.
"I couldn't afford to travel to Sydney or Melbourne so I knew I would have to have it done in Albury," she said.
Every week members of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, a Catholic Church-affiliated group that conducts vigils in Australia and the United States, erect signs and pray outside Albury's Fertility Control Clinic.
Mary had seen the group outside the clinic before and spent the days in the lead-up to her appointment worrying about having to get past them to enter the clinic.
"I was worried about them approaching me and about my reaction if they did so," she said.
She brought a friend along for support on the day.
"There were around seven [picketers] on the day that I can remember clearly," she said. "They didn't have foetal dolls but they had signs with dead foetuses on them, prayer books, rosary beads and pamphlets."
Mary said the protesters "circled" her and told her that she didn't "have to do this" and that she would go to hell if she did.
"I felt like I had to explain myself and my medical situation to get past them and through to the clinic as they were right in the footpath leading up to the door," she said.
Mary said she told them about her medical situation and the picketers told her that was "God's will".
"Eventually I got hysterical and one stepped sideways and they eventually just said they would pray for me," she said.
Later that day Mary said she called the police to make a complaint.
"I was told that there was nothing they could do," she said. "They asked if anyone had hit me or said anything abusive and so I repeated what had been said but was told that that wasn't classed as abusive."
Patients entering reproductive health clinics in NSW have been filmed, approached by anti-abortion protesters and asked to reconsider the termination of their pregnancy, handed plastic foetuses, shown disturbing images and offered help with immigration on the condition they would not terminate a pregnancy.
The Albury clinic Mary attended was the focus of many speeches in a parliamentary debate last month over a bill to enact safe-access zones around abortion clinics in NSW.
The legislation, introduced by Labor MP Penny Sharpe and cosponsored by Nationals MP Trevor Khan, would enact 150-metre zones in which anti-abortion protesters caught intimidating staff or patients could be fined or even jailed.
The bill successfully passed through the upper house of the state's parliament and will be voted on in the lower house on Thursday.
"If it passes I will feel some sort of relief because I know I have family members and friends in Albury who don't want their privacy interfered with, and if my daughter was even in that situation the last thing I would want is for her to be exposed to that," Mary said.
"I don't think [the protesters] are deliberately harming people, and I think they really believe in their cause and have good intentions, but they don't realise that what they are doing is harmful and it is harassment and it is intimidation."
* Not her real name.