Women entering reproductive health clinics in NSW have been filmed, approached by anti-abortion protesters and asked to reconsider the termination of pregnancy, handed plastic fetuses and shown disturbing images.
But the days of intimidation and harassment from so-called "sidewalk counsellors" may be coming to an end.
NSW Labor MP Penny Sharpe this morning introduced a bill to create "safe access zones" around clinics to protect patients and staff.
"It is unacceptable that women are forced to look at distorted graphic images and told that they are murderers and are going to hell," Sharpe told parliament.
"It is unacceptable that women are jostled and filmed. It is unacceptable that the dedicated staff are often followed and harassed on their way into and out of work."
Sharpe stressed the bill was not about stopping people from expressing their views.
"This clause attempts to ban activities such as displaying a doll in a pram spattered with fake blood, or standing silently with their mouths taped shut," she said.
"This bill does not allow deeply held views to be an excuse for intimidation and harassment outside clinics.
"There is no other health service where patients are subject to this kind of harassment."
Sharpe said she is approached "every week" by someone in her electorate who is concerned about protesters outside clinics.
"[A] woman was accompanying her daughter to the clinic when she was horrified not just at the intimidation and threats that they endured.
"She also realised that the people out the front of the clinic had been filming her daughter as she entered."
In the NSW border city of Albury, regular picketers hand patients plastic fetal dolls as they enter a fertility clinic.
Protesters stand next to pictures of babies and spray "holy water" along the footpath outside the clinic.
Albury woman Laura told BuzzFeed News she was forced to have a medical abortion at home as she was too scared to enter the clinic for a surgical abortion in case she was confronted by a relative who protests outside.
“I knew I couldn’t face that," she said.
“I felt like my privacy would be taken away from me.”
NSW Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi has introduced a bill to remove abortion from the state's criminal code and establish safe access zones around hospitals and clinics where abortion is provided.
Legislation for safe access zones has now been passed and implemented in the ACT, Tasmania and Victoria.
Mother of 13 Kathy Clubb became the first person arrested under Victoria's safe access zones legislation last August.
The Northern Territory last week passed legislation to establish the zones as part of a bill to decriminalise abortions.
Gina Rushton is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Gina Rushton at email@example.com.
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