Pro-life activities to be crimes in Victoria

News today is that the Victorian government will support a private members’ bill introduced into the Upper House by Sex Party MLC Fiona Patten. 

The Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (Safe Access) Bill 2015 (Bill) sets up exclusion zones around any location which provides advice, medication and treatment in respect of reproductive “health”, including abortions.

Under this law, it will be a criminal offence to beset, harass, intimidate, interfere with, threaten, hinder, obstruct or impede a person, or record a person accessing or attempting to access premises.

This seems fairly reasonable, except that terms like “beset”, “harass” and “intimidate” are quite subjective terms, and someone who wanted to punish vigilkeepers could try to argue that a person quietly praying outside a clinic is “intimidating”.

Similarly, interfering with or impeding a footpath is similarly prohibited.

But even more alarmingly, it will now be a criminal offence to communicate in relation to reproductive health services in a manner that is able to be seen or heard by a person accessing, or attempting to access, premises at which reproductive “health” services are provided.

Let this sink in for a moment.

Communication about reproductive health – whether verbal, or with billboards or other advertisements – will now be a criminal offence.

The penalty is in excess of $75,000 and/or 12 months in prison.

After this law passes – which the Victorian government has assured it will – prayer outside an abortion clinic could cost you $75,000.  Offering assistance to a woman seeking an abortion could land you in prison for 12 months.

Make no mistake.  These laws are extreme.  And they are being put in place to silence those who advocate for an expectant mother and an unborn child.

They are designed to punish people for being pro-life.

I know that this is a bold statement, so I will seek to substantiate it.

There are already laws in Victoria which criminalise intimidation.  Section 545B of the Crimes Act 1958 makes it a crime to intimidate a person trying to undertake a lawful activity, with a fine up to $7500 and up to 2 years imprisonment.

And section 21A criminalises the making of threats, using abusive or offensive words, performing abusive or offensive acts, giving offensive material or leaving it in a place where it will be brought to a victim’s attention, keeping a person under surveillance, or acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to a person, including self-harm, or to arouse apprehension or fear in a person for their own or another’s safety.

There is no financial penalty for these crimes, but they can carry up to 10 years in prison.

But none of these vigilkeepers have ever been charged with such a crime, because they do not engage in behaviour which causes this type of harm. 

If this was just about preventing bad behaviour, there would be no need for additional laws, because the prohibited behaviour would be caught under existing criminal laws.

No, this is about punishing a person for the views they hold about abortion.  Even the financial penalty, which is 10x higher than for existing offences, has to be seen as trying to make a person risk their livelihood if they were to breach this law.

As an example, I could legally stand outside a childhood vaccination clinic in Victoria, and hand out all of the anti-vaccination pamphlets I liked.  Provided I complied with other laws, I could approach parents and ask them not to vaccinate their children.  I could hold up signs about the dangers of vaccinations, fund billboards, and offer people alternatives.

None of this would be illegal.

But if I dare to undertake the exact same activity in opposition to abortion, I could end up with a $75,000 fine and up to a year in prison.

There is no measure by which this is not an attempt to criminalise a specific point of view.  It is a dangerous threat to freedom of conscience and religion.  Not to mention the many mothers and unborn children who will be harmed because, in the name of “a woman’s right to choose”, those with the ability to offer alternatives to abortion will be punished for doing so.

***UPDATE*** The Victorian Government has said that it will not pass this specific bill, but base its own bill on Ms Patten's one and introduce it to the Lower House by the end of the year.  The new bill will include administrative sections, and may also have a different size exclusion zone, and different penalties.  We will keep you updated.

Monica Doumit, Catholic Talk contributor

Tuesday, 01 September 2015 11:15 Written by 
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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in CathTalk blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of all members of that of the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney.

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4 comments

  • Hi Kenneth

    There is obviously for which we need to repent. But I'm not sure the scourge of child sexual abuse should prevent myself or anyone else from expressing a view on a new law. I think that in rational debate, a person's argument should be judged on its merits, and not by the actions of others.

    Peace.

    Catholic Talk, Editor Thursday, 03 September 2015 02:20 Report
  • Hi Gayle

    Thanks for your comment!

    I was not implying anything at all. The passage you quote is already contained in section 21A of the Crimes Act - it is already a crime in Victoria. What I am saying is that if the vigil-keepers were acting in a way which could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm, there is already a law under which they could be charged. My argument is that there is no need for a new law if it is seeking to prevent harm, because one already exists. The new law seeks to go further and criminalise behaviour even if it is not harmful.

    Hope that clarifies!

    Catholic Talk, Editor Thursday, 03 September 2015 02:17 Report
  • "acting in any other way that could reasonably be expected to cause physical or mental harm to a person, including self-harm, or to arouse apprehension or fear in a person for their own or another’s safety."
    How dare you imply that people like you are not causing harm? If these laws prevent the unwelcome harassment of a person seeking lawful treatment, I'm all for it. Just mind your own business and leave these people alone.

    Gayle Thursday, 03 September 2015 00:19 Report
  • when your Priests and church abandons condoning PEDOPHILIA then you can condemn others, get your house in order and repent.

    Kenneth Robinson Wednesday, 02 September 2015 06:18 Report