NSW Labor MP Penny Sharpe's push to protect patients from harassment by enacting safe access zones around abortion clinics has gained momentum after it was backed by Nationals MP Trevor Khan last night.
Sharpe and Khan announced at a campaign launch for the legislation at NSW Parliament House on Tuesday night that they would co-sponsor a bill to establish safe access zones in NSW.
"Having a National Party MP co-sponsor my bill gives it a greater chance of success," Sharpe told BuzzFeed News.
"Access to reproductive health services is not a right or left issue, it is an issue of privacy and respect for all people to access the medical services they need free from the interference of others."
Khan last night commended Sharpe for exhibiting a “deftness of political touch that you rarely see in politics” and said there were some challenges left but that there was enough support in the Coalition for the bill to pass both houses.
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, and shown disturbing images.
"Trevor’s support opens up the discussion and will help to build support in the parliament," Sharpe said.
Sharpe introduced a private members' bill for exclusion zones in March last year and the new updated bill includes three changes: It puts safe access zones in the Public Health Act (rather than the Summary Offences Act), it provides penalties for first and second offences, and it recognises that churches within any zone are "free to do what they want on their own land".
The final change would only be relevant if a church sits within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.
The bill will be introduced into the Upper House on Thursday and, Sharpe hopes, debated and voted on by the end of June before parliament breaks for the winter recess.
“Trevor and I will be working every day to convince National Party and Liberal Party MPs to give women the protection and privacy that they need to go to the doctor," she said.
"Victoria, the Northern Territory, the ACT, and Tasmania have done it, so can NSW.”
Other NSW politicians and reproductive rights activists attended the launch.
Paul Nattrass has been the practice manager of the Private Clinic in Surry Hills, Sydney, for 18 years and spoke at the launch. The clinic provides termination of pregnancy, insertion and removal of intrauterine devices (IUDs), contraceptive advice, and vasectomies.
"Many women are more concerned about protesters than the procedure itself," Nattrass said.
"Even when patients are being discharged after the procedure, they nearly all ask if the protesters are still there and ask to be ushered through an alternate exit."
Nattrass said protesters had started to stake out other entrances to the clinic.
"Even after she breaks away and rushes towards the clinic, protesters will walk beside [the patient] to the entrance, all the while pleading with her not to have an abortion."
He said his patients were often filmed by picketers while entering the clinic and Nattrass said he heard a protester tell a patient on her way out, "take this [pamphlet], maybe you can save someone else's baby".
"No-one should have to suffer the forceful, intrusive questioning of their medical treatment from a stranger in the street under any circumstances," Nattrass said.