WA Introduces New Legislation to Ensure Safe Access Zones for Abortion Providers

Thursday 29 October 2020 @ 8.59 a.m. | Crime | Legal Research

The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into the WA Parliament on 14 October 2020 by Mr RH Cook, the Minister for Health.  The Bill would create "safe access zones" around premises at which abortions are provided to ensure that those who want to access abortion services can do so in a safe and private manner. Further, the Bill also prohibits publication and distribution of certain recordings to protect the privacy and dignity of those who access abortion services.

General Overview

The Bill follows the publication of a report in February 2020 by the Department of Health (DOH) in WA, namely the "Safe access zones - a proposal for reform in Western Australia". The report was based on wide community consultation on safe access zones, which according to the DOH received an extraordinary level of community and industry engagement, and found that 70 percent of respondents were in favour of the proposal for safe access zones. The community and industry engagement the DOH received included 235 email and paper submissions and 3,949 engagements through an online survey. In excess of 40 public and private organisations made submissions. Of the respondents to the online survey 3,311 (83.8%) identified themselves as WA residents, which, according to the report, was indicative of the importance of the proposal for the community, and as the report states:

"The outcome of the consultation process shows that 2,927 (70.0%) of all submissions (4,184) were in favour of introducing safe access zones around premises at which abortion services are provided in WA." 

What the Bill Proposes

The Bill provides for a "safe access zone" which will include the protected premises, and any area within 150 metres of the boundary. A safe access zone will apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week and within those zones, prohibited behaviours will include:

  • harassing, intimidating and threatening a person accessing premises at which abortions are provided;
  • communicating by any means in relation to abortion in a manner that can be seen or heard by a person accessing the premises and is reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety;
  • impeding a footpath, road or vehicle without reasonable excuse, in relation to abortion; and
  • recording by any means, without reasonable excuse, another person accessing premises at which abortions are provided, without that other person's consent.

The Bill also prohibits a person from publishing and distributing recordings of another person accessing premises at which abortions are provided, if the recording could identify that person, without their consent or reasonable excuse.

The penalties for engaging in a prohibited behaviour in a safe access zone would attract a maximum penalty of $12,000 and 12 months imprisonment.

Details of Amendments

Clause 4 of the Bill proposes the insertion of a new Part 12C entitled “Safe access to premises at which abortions are provided”. A new section 202N sets out the purpose of Part 12C as being to 'provide for safe access zones around premises at which abortions are provided so as to protect the safety and wellbeing, and respect the privacy and dignity of both persons accessing the services provided at the premises, and employees and other persons accessing the premises in the course of their duties and responsibilities; and to prohibit publication and distribution of certain recordings.'

Some of the terms used in Part 12C which are defined include:

  • "Distribute", which includes communicate, exhibit, send, supply, offer or transmit, make available for access, enter into an agreement or arrangement to do any of the foregoing, and attempt to distribute.
  • "Publish", which means to disseminate to the public or a section of the public by any means, including in a book, newspaper, magazine or other written publication, by radio broadcast, television, a website, an online facility or other electronic means.
  • "Recording", which includes a photograph and digital image.
  • "Safe access zone", which means an area within 150 metres outside the boundary of premises at which abortions are provided, including the area within the boundary of that premises — noting that premises at which abortions are provided does not include a pharmacy.

A proposed new section 202P creates an offence to engage in prohibited behaviour within a safe access zone and a new section 202Q creates an offence in relation to publishing or distributing certain recordings. Section 202Q provides that a person must not, without the consent of another person or without reasonable excuse, publish or distribute a recording of the other person accessing, attempting to access or leaving premises at which abortions are provided, if the recording contains particulars that are likely to lead to the identification of that other person; and that other person as a person accessing premises at which abortions are provided. It is important to note that it is  not relevant for the purposes of this offence whether or not the recording was made by a person within a safe access zone.

Comments and Reaction

The Health Minister commented in a media release that:

"This legislation will bring Western Australia into line with most other jurisdictions in Australia in having protective measures in place for those who are accessing abortion services. . . .  Women undergoing abortions and their support persons deserve compassion, respect and privacy at an emotionally challenging time, free of harassment or judgement. . .  Staff who work at these health services should also be protected."

The Women's Interests Minister Simone McGurk MLA in the same media release also points out the need for the legislation and the protection it provides for women, saying:

"Western Australian women have a right to access legal medical services without fear of intimidation. . . Safe access zones are already helping women in other jurisdictions - they provide privacy and safety to those who should not be subjected to harassment when accessing vital medical services. . . . On this issue, it's time to bring WA into line with the rest of the country."

Jamal Hakim, Managing Director of the Marie Stopes Family Planning Clinic, states:

“In any given year, we estimate that 2,300 clients are impacted by the presence of picketers outside our Midland clinic. Last year picketers spent 2,295 hours standing outside of our clinic upsetting both clients and staff. . . . The Bill introduces reforms that will protect people’s right to access healthcare services safely and with their privacy and dignity protected and respected. Everyone has a right to access their workplace without being intimidated and harassed.”

The Bill was, as indicated above, introduced on 14 October 2020 and is currently at second reading stage in the WA Legislative Assembly.

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