Safe access zones: keeping patients safe – mentally and physically

The reality is that providing safe zones where patients can access sexual and reproductive health services, including abortions, is more a public health issue than a challenge to free speech.Dr Philip Goldstone, Medical Director Marie Stopes Australia

In Victoria, the ACT, Tasmania and the Northern Territory, safe access zones are legislated around clinics which help to shield women from sidewalk counsellors who misinform, show images and icons meant to manipulate and upset, and film and photograph women against their will.

Running a network of clinics across the country, we see what a difference safe access zones make to the health and welfare of patients. Patients in the ACT and Victoria in particular have a very different experience to the years before safe access zones were enacted.
Our staff come to work each day without being shouted at and harassed. But women living in Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia and Queensland do not have this basic right.

Because there’s no regulation on the claims made by protestors they’re able to make medically impossible claims designed to traumatise and distress patients before the procedure. This includes pamphlets with fake images and statistics intended to make women believe that they’ll regret their decision. Others will employ emotional manipulation tactics by holding “prayer vigils for the dead” outside the clinic.

Marie Stopes staff are well acquainted with running the gauntlet of protesters. They become inescapable when they’re pitched outside your place of work. Philip Goldstone, medical director of Marie Stopes explains how he manages it;

“I am used to being told daily that I am going to hell. I am used to standing up to protesters who block my path when I am entering my workplace. I can handle the criticism spat at me angrily by strangers. I can do this because I strongly believe in providing sexual and reproductive health services to Australians no matter who they are or where they are.”

And that is why Marie Stopes will continue to campaign for Safe Access Zones across the country. Because everyone deserves quality healthcare without facing a misguided moral firing squad in order to access it. Our staff, our patients, and indeed every person looking to access reproductive healthcare services should have the right to do so without being assaulted.

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