Many years ago, as a student of the Australian National University, I’d often ride my bike past the ACT Health building in the city and wonder why the front was often tasselled with such a ghoulish gathering. Perhaps it was a mimed version of The Rocky Horror Picture Show… in slow motion?
Always in a rush, and with a propensity for doing my homework whilst in transit, it wasn’t until years later that I realised the true nature of this ghostly and macabre congregation. They were there to shame and intimidate women who were seeking an abortion
When I first saw the trembling hands holding crosses juxtaposed with images of mutilated foetuses, I was bemused. I asked myself how people with such life experience could be so willing to torment people much younger than themselves.
According to Medicare statistics released in 2009, approximately one third of elective pregnancy terminations were for women under the age of twenty, many of whom were minors.
As of last night, it looks like Fiona Patten MLC, with the support of the Victorian Labor Government, will be successful in passing her safe access zones legislation. This legislation will protect vulnerable women and medical professionals from intimidation, persecution, and unnecessary suffering caused by protesting religious extremists in Victoria.
The purpose of the legislation is to protect people in their time of need with a 150-metre buffer zone around the fertility clinic or medical facility.
For me, this was never a debate about freedom of speech. For instance, I don’t think we teach our children enough of the beauty of literature and music in secondary schools, but that doesn’t mean I should be allowed to shame teachers and students as they walk to school each day.
We wouldn’t allow people to be intimidated each time they walked to a hospital or a psychologist’s clinic, or to donate blood.
This isn’t an issue of freedom of speech and it isn’t even an issue about abortion. The issue is whether we think it is right to allow women and children to be persecuted and abused by religious extremists in a time when they surely need society’s love and support.
To argue against safe access zones, on the basis of freedom of speech, is to condone the persecution and abuse of women and children in their time of need.
Safe access zones are about a progressive and caring Australia protecting vulnerable women and children. As a member of the Australian Sex Party, it’s encouraging to see that ACT legislators are beginning to adopt our policies. One, understandably, wonders why these policies were not adopted years before now but rather in the lead up to the first election where the ASP will be a serious contender in 2016. But… imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.