Safe access zones: keeping clients safe – mentally and physically
The reality is that providing safe zones where clients 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 the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), New South Wales (NSW), the Northern Territory (NT), Queensland (QLD), South Australia (SA), Tasmania (TAS) and Victoria (VIC), 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. Clients 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 (WA) do not have this basic right.
Because there’s no regulation on the claims made by picketers 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 Australia staff are well acquainted with running the gauntlet of picketers. They become inescapable when they’re pitched outside your place of work. Philip Goldstone, medical director of Marie Stopes Australia 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 Australia 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 clients, and indeed every person looking to access reproductive healthcare services should have the right to do so without being assaulted.
How can we harmonise safe access zone legislation across Australia?
We have coordinated a Paper on safe access zones to draw attention to this issue.
Safe access zones in Australia is a legislative scan of safe access zones in. It highlights the links between safe access zones, health access and equity, and the prevention of violence against women.
The Paper also contains recommendations on how to address safe access zones legislation in Western Australia.