A couple of weeks ago, Labor MLC Penny Sharpe introduced a bill into the NSW Legislative Council which would see exclusion zones enforced around abortion clinics in NSW, similar to those currently in place in Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory and Tasmania.
Essentially, the proposed law aims to punish pro-life vigils, even those – like the 40 Days for Life campaign – which are conducted by people who stand across the road from abortion clinics, in silent or quiet prayer, often not even facing the clinic. Under the proposed legislation, those who do so will face fines of up to $16,500 and up to 12 months imprisonment.
An ‘exemption’ to this is offered for gatherings outside NSW Parliament House, because it is just 20 metres from an abortion clinic but it appears that Ms Sharpe does not even approve of such gatherings, recently sending a staffer to represent her at a protest which aimed to disrupt a peaceful, pro-life procession to Parliament House. You can read more about that here.
But in this piece, I wanted to respond to Ms Sharpe’s justification for this Bill, expressed in her second reading speech in Parliament.
Ms Sharpe began by saying that “every day in New South Wales, women are subjected to harassment and intimidation as they attempt to enter reproductive health clinics.”
If that was true, then surely those harassing or intimidating these women would already be liable to punishment under section 545B of the NSW Crimes Act, which makes it illegal to use violence or intimidation to compel any person to abstain from doing any act which they have a legal right to do.
The same section of the Crimes Act also protects people from being followed, which is another allegation Ms Sharpe made against those keeping vigil, accusing them of following and harassing clinic staff on the way into and out of work.
Indeed, the accusations made by Ms Sharpe are extraordinary in their level of untruthfulness. She spoke of physical harassment, verbal abuse (including telling women that they are murderers and going to hell), the display of ‘distorted, graphic images,’ jostling, filming, the blocking of entrances, the displaying of dolls in prams spattered with fake blood and more. It is clear that she has never attended one of these vigils herself, apparently preferring instead to take the word of abortion activists and clinic owners.
I know politicians push agendas, often seeking to represent ideologies instead of their constituents. But if they are seeking to change a law in some way, particularly one which would impose custodial sentences on a group of people, then they have a responsibility to get their facts right. Ms Sharpe is no exception to this responsibility.
A petition to all members of the NSW Legislative Council is being organised, asking the members to oppose this Bill, and also a draft piece of legislation being proposed by Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi which would decriminalise abortion in this state. We provided an analysis of that legislation here.
What you need to do is:
- Download the petition by clicking here;
- Print off a copy (or many copies) of the petition – single-sided only. The petitions will not be accepted if they are printed double-sided;
- Collect signatures from family and friends;
It’s as simple as that! And what a better time to start than this weekend, when many of us will be gathering with family to celebrate Easter?
So often – too often – we think we can do nothing about the terrible scourge of abortion. This is something that all of us can do, and none of us have an excuse not to.
Monica Doumit, catholicTalk contributor