WA Government Releases Discussion Paper On Introduction of Safe Access Zones

Tuesday 23 April 2019 @ 12.06 p.m. | Legal Research

On 17 April 2019, the Western Australian Department of Health released a discussion paper titled "Safe Access Zones – Proposal for Reform in Western Australia" (‘the Discussion Paper’).

The release of the Discussion Paper follows the recent High Court decision in Clubb v Edwards; Preston v Avery [2019] HCA 11, which confirmed that legislation establishing safe access zones in both Victoria and Tasmania were constitutionally valid and did not infringe on the implied freedom of communication on governmental or political matters.  This case was discussed in a previous TimeBase article.

The Discussion Paper

Currently, abortion is legal in Western Australia, with the government estimating around 8,000 abortions occur every year within the state. However, there have been ongoing issues and occasions where individuals are approached by protesters when attempting to access these services. These protests have been reported to cause anxiety and distress for both patients and staff at these abortion service clinics. Currently, all states except WA and SA have safe access zones outside abortion clinics.

The Discussion Paper looks into the value of introducing safe access zones and how a corresponding legislative framework would operate in WA.

The Discussion Paper explains:

“Safe access zones are designed to address concerns regarding the safety and wellbeing of patients and staff entering premises to access legal health services, such as abortion services. All patients in Western Australia have a right to safety, privacy, dignity and respect when accessing healthcare. The zones provide a buffer that shields patients from people who oppose abortion and are engaged in behaviour such as protests and sidewalk counselling.”

The Discussion Paper also clarifies that the imposition of these safe access zones does not prevent individuals from demonstrating or protesting. Rather, it moves individuals away from the immediate vicinity of a clinic, in order to prevent intimidation and harassment of patients and staff members.

Some of the questions open for consultation in the discussion paper are:

“Question 8: During what times should safe access zones apply?

(a) Only during clinic opening hours

(b) 24 hours a days, 7 days a week

(c) Prescribed on a case by case basis

(d) Other (please provide detail)

(e) No response

Question 9: How far should the safe access zone extend?

(a) Minimum of 50 metres

(b) Minimum of 150 metres

(c) Prescribed on a case by case basis

(d) Other (please provide detail)

(e) No response

Question 12: Are there premises, other than abortion clinics, that should also be protected by safe access zones? Please provide detail if applicable.”

Response

The response and comments on both the current situation in WA and the discussion paper has been varied.

Women’s Interests Minister Simone McGurk has spoken in support of safe zones:

“The introduction of safe access zones will maintain the rights of women to privacy and safety during what is likely a very difficult time … I encourage the Western Australian public to have their say on how they think these zones can best be implemented and how we can help ensure women accessing legal medical procedures can do so without further distress.”

However, Stephen Klomp, Perth spokesperson for 40 Days for Life has said he doesn't believe his group interferes with access to clinics, stating:

“We don’t actually protest, we’re a peaceful, prayerful vigil and we don’t even approach anyone, we smile and wave sometimes if people smile and wave at us, but we actually wait until people approach us and then we offer assistance where we can … What we do at [Marie Stopes Midland] is we occupy the public street verge, public land, we don’t obstruct the footpath, we don’t obstruct the driveway.”

40 Days for Life is an anti-abortion group who were recently granted a permit to pray outside of two abortion clinics for Lent. The group has committed to pray for 40 days every day.

TimeBase is an independent, privately owned Australian legal publisher specialising in the online delivery of accurate, comprehensive and innovative legislation research tools including LawOne and unique Point-in-Time Products. Nothing on this website should be construed as legal advice and does not substitute for the advice of competent legal counsel.

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