Abortion win in High Court

10 April 2019
Laws that promote the safety, dignity and privacy of women seeking reproductive healthcare have been upheld by the High Court of Australia.

The High Court today rejected a challenge by two anti-abortionists to the validity of Victoria and Tasmania’s safe access zone laws. The laws put an end to the harmful and distressing harassment and intimidation of women outside reproductive health clinics.

The Human Rights Law Centre and Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic, represented by Maurice Blackburn Lawyers, both intervened in the case to defend Victoria’s laws as necessary to ensure women and staff can access abortion clinics free from harassment and abuse.

Dr Susie Allanson, who worked as a clinical psychologist at the Clinic for 26 years, said this was a win for women accessing services and also for the dedicated staff working in abortion clinics.

"Since the safe zones came into effect, women and staff are no longer a target when they walk up to the clinic, and women no longer carry the heavy burden of being publicly attacked for seeking medical care. This is a great result that enshrines respect for women’s choices," said Dr Allanson.

Adrianne Walters, Senior Lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre said the High Court’s decision acknowledged the importance of privacy, safety and equality in access to healthcare.

“With today’s decision, women in Victoria and Tasmania never again need to worry about being forced to run a gauntlet of abuse to access abortion care. Safe access zones are here to stay.”

"Anti-abortionists outside clinics cause serious distress, fear and anxiety to patients and staff.  Right now, women seeking reproductive healthcare in WA and SA are being harassed by anti-abortionists because their governments have failed to protect them. There can be no excuse for delaying safe access zone laws,” said Walters.

Jennifer Kanis, Principal Lawyer with Maurice Blackburn, who acted on behalf of the Clinic, said safe access zones protected women’s rights to safely access lawful health services where other legal protections had failed.

“We welcome today’s decision which has upheld a woman’s right to access her doctor free from fear, intimidation or harassment. Safe access zone laws protect the privacy, safety and dignity of women seeking reproductive health care and we are pleased that this decision upholds the primacy of privacy and health outcomes for women.”

“Maurice Blackburn acted pro bono in this matter because safe access zones are effective in preventing abuse and intimidation. We were part of the Supreme Court challenge that precipitated these laws and we will continue to fight for women to be free to access reproductive healthcare.”

Further information

Safe access zones prohibit a range of harmful conduct, such as harassing, filming and intimidating patients and staff within 150 metres of a health clinic that provides abortion services. The High Court was asked to determine whether a prohibition on communications reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety in Victoria, and a prohibition on protests about abortion in Tasmania, are constitutional.

Victoria introduced safe access zone laws in 2016, while Tasmania introduced them as part decriminalising abortion in 2013. New South Wales, the ACT, the Northern Territory and Queensland also have safe access zone laws.

Victoria’s safe access zone laws came into force in 2016, following a Supreme Court challenge by the Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic to end decades-long harassment by anti-abortionists outside the Clinic. Maurice Blackburn Lawyers and the Human Rights Law Centre were part of the Clinic’s legal team for the 2016 challenge.

Media contact: Paddy Murphy at Maurice Blackburn on 0409 297 391 or via pmurphy@mauriceblackburn.com.au

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