OUR SAY: The right to treatment beats right to protest

DO any of us want to live in a state where one person’s right to protest is allowed to trump another’s right to professional medical treatment?

That should be the only question on MPs’ minds when the question of safe zones around the state’s abortion clinics comes before the Legislative Assembly.

A private member’s bill introduced to parliament last year by Labor MP Penny Sharpe seeks to bring NSW laws in line with Victoria, the ACT, Northern Territory and Tasmania.

The proposed laws will provide a 150-metre exclusion zone around clinics and make it an offence to film staff and patients without their consent.

The bill passed the upper house last month and is expected to be debated in the legislative assembly on Thursday.

Inside the zone it will be illegal to obstruct or interfere with a person accessing or leaving a clinic; to communicate “in relation to abortions” in a manner that could cause “distress or anxiety” to a person accessing or leaving a clinic; and to record and distribute visual data of a person without their consent.

Penalties include up to six months’ jail for a first offence and 12 months for a subsequent offence.

It should not be a long debate but, sadly, probably will be if hard-right conservatives from the Coalition seek to put their stamp on the discussion.

And they will likely push the line of so many who oppose these safe zones as being an undemocratic attack on their right to protest. What utter nonsense.

This bill will not stop people opposing abortion, but it will stop them hectoring and harassing young women as they seek legitimate, professional medical attention.

It will also stop them abusing medical professionals who are doing nothing more than turning up for an honest day’s work and it will stop them further damaging the mental health of the many young women who are already in a fragile, vulnerable state when they arrive at the clinic.

It is the disgraceful past behaviour of so many of the protesters that has made the safe zones necessary and brought the issue before the parliament.

What we need now is for our MPs to deliver a clear and quick message that this state will not countenance the protesters’ brand of hate and will not defend what they spuriously label freedom of speech.