Western Australia moves towards safe access zones

Sigrid Firth Abortion, Advocacy, Contraception, Media, Safe access

Harassment and intimidation of clients and staff outside of our clinics may soon be a thing of the past, following moves towards safe access zones in Western Australia (WA). Today the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2021 will be reintroduced in the WA Legislative Assembly.

The Public Health Amendment (Safe Access Zones) Bill 2020 had passed in the Legislative Assembly in November last year, however it had to be tabled again given the state election earlier this year. Once passed in the Legislative Assembly, the Bill will go to the Legislative Council. WA will be the last jurisdiction in Australia to legislate safe access zones.

Each year picketers spend approximately 2,295 hours outside the Marie Stopes Australia Midland Clinic. Picketers can undermine community trust and feelings of safety, as well as breach privacy.

Safe access zones prevent picketing within 150 metres of abortion care clinics. When it comes to accessing health services, it is of critical importance that people not only feel safe but that their privacy is respected and protected.

Last year Marie Stopes Australia published a Legislative Scan on safe access zones, in collaboration with the University of Queensland and the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance. The paper provides recommendations on key aspects of safe access zone legislation in Western Australia including size, definitions of prohibited behaviour, premises that are covered by the zones and exemptions.

Marie Stopes Australia is appreciative of the McGowan Government’s support for sexual and reproductive health access and equity. We will continue to work in partnership to ensure safe access to healthcare for all Western Australians.

Quotes from Leigh Keane, Nurse Unit Manager, Marie Stopes Australia Midland Clinic:

“Managing a clinic that delivers vital sexual and reproductive health services such as abortion care is a rewarding and challenging role. We care greatly for each client who walks through our doors and we do so without judgement and prejudice.”

“I have contended with abusive behaviour, I have been told that what I do is wrong, evil and that I should be ashamed. I have had my car covered in ‘holy water’ that has blistered the paint. My staff have been followed to their cars and confronted by strangers. I have held the hands of clients and support people who have been confused and hurt by the judgement and acts of these picketers.”

“Every person who steps foot in this clinic, be they a nurse, doctor, administrator, counsellor, cleaner or client, should be able to do so feeling safe and respected. Sadly, the presence of picketers jeopardises our ability to do this. It also impacts on our families who worry about the aggression and judgement we have faced over the years.”

Quotes from Jamal Hakim, Managing Director, Marie Stopes Australia:

“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.”

“It really is sad that we need safe access zones. However, the experience of our staff and clients has shown how necessary they are. In places where they have been enacted, they have made a huge, positive impact on the safety and privacy of staff and clients. This Bill will make a big difference for healthcare access in WA.”

“We are grateful for the McGowan Government’s support of safe access to sexual and reproductive healthcare.”

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For further information or to interview Leigh Keane or Jamal Hakim contact Marie Stopes Australia, 0428 396 391.

Marie Stopes Australia is a national not for profit provider of sexual and reproductive health services including permanent and long-acting reversible contraception and abortion care. For more information on our clinic network visit mariestopes.org.au.