Getting an abortion is a hard enough decision for any woman to make, without facing intimidation from total strangers who have no business telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies, writes Senator Larissa Waters.
Have you ever attended a protest? I’ve been to a tonne of them.
I have protested for action on climate change, against war, to save the Reef, for more humane treatment of asylum seekers, for farmland to be protected from coal and coal seam gas, for same sex marriage rights, the list goes on. I deeply value my right to gather with others and call for change in the public interest.
Yet I am outraged by the idea that anti-abortion protesters would stand outside abortion clinics and intimidate, judge and harass women as they access a medical procedure.
Many women have abortions. It is as common as it is often difficult and emotionally distressing for women who make that choice.
So, how dare those often old, white, religious men harass women on their way to or from that often incredibly difficult experience?
Women should have the right to access safe, legal abortion and medical privacy without fear, intimidation or harassment by anti-choice protesters. And this week the ACT Justice Minister and Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury, released draft legislation to ensure just that.
Minister Rattenbury released draft legislation to create harassment-free exclusion zones around abortion clinics in the ACT, making it illegal to harass, hinder, intimidate, interfere with, threaten or obstruct anyone entering an abortion clinic.
This is an essential reform to protect the rights of women to medical privacy and their human right to freely access safe and legal abortion services. Getting an abortion is a hard enough decision for any woman to make, without facing intimidation from total strangers who have no business telling them what they can and cannot do with their bodies.
We must respect women’s fundamental rights to make choices about their own bodies.
Access to abortion services is already far too difficult in many states. Abortion is still in the criminal code in New South Wales and Queensland, creating stigma and uncertainty that makes women feel unnecessarily isolated and afraid. Legal uncertainty also makes it harder for doctors and hospitals to offer abortions.
In Queensland, these and other factors mean that rural women have only three abortion clinics outside of the South-East corner: Rockhampton, Townsville and Cairns.
Laws that restrict the right to protest should not be taken lightly. Protest and free speech are pillars of our democracy and without them much of our precious environmental heritage would now be burned to the ground or flooded for a dam. We should all be vigilant against legislation that erodes the rights to protest and political assembly, like Joh Bjelke-Peterson style move-on laws in Queensland.
But while I accept anti-choice activists’ right to hold different views to me, I firmly believe that women’s bodies are not public property, and that no-one has a right to harass, intimidate, or film women as they enter an abortion clinic.
We’ve come a long way since 1969 when abortions first became legal in Australia, but we are still a long way from all women having access to safe, legal and affordable abortions if they need them.
I’ll stand up in the Parliament to defend the rights of protesters who are selflessly standing up for the common good. I’ll even defend the rights of people with whom I disagree completely.
But there is a line. For those who seek to impose their religion or morality on the bodies of women, I respectfully ask that they find a way to express their views without harassing women in an incredibly private and challenging time. But preferably, that they just mind their own business and get their rosaries off our ovaries.
Senator Larissa Waters is the Deputy Leader of the Australian Greens, and the spokesperson on Women.
Related: Grayson and Tina Curri send up anti-choice protester in a series of photos posted on their Tumbr, ‘Saturday Chores’. Click through some of their images here:
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