The Australian state of Victoria is likely to pass legislation soon creating anti-picketer buffer zones around abortion clinics, local media reported Tuesday.
The state's Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the ban is expected to be put into law by the end of the year, according to the Herald Sun.
“I think this is a very mainstream issue and women accessing a lawful medical service and being able to do so without intimidation and harassment is actually not a controversial concept,” she was quoted by the newspaper as stating.
The minister said the legislation will be based on a private members bill introduced to state parliament last month by Fiona Patten, a Victorian legislator from the Sex Party.
Patten's bill proposed a 150-meter exclusion zone around clinics to curb anti-abortion demonstrations. Within the proposed zone, police would be empowered to stop demonstrators from harassing abortion clinic clients. A similar law is already in place in Tasmania.
“We need to get penalties commensurate to other public nuisance offenses,” Hennessy said.
The anti-abortion demonstrations outside Melbourne's clinics have long been a source of controversy. Earlier this year, lawyers for a Melbourne clinic argued in court that demonstrations were causing a nuisance and harassing clients and staff. The allegations were made during proceedings stemming from calls from the clinic for the local government to take measures to force demonstrators to desist. The clinic lost the case, though the presiding judge noted the conduct of protesters was potentially a nuisance.
The clinic's psychologist, Dr. Susie Allanson has compared the actions of demonstrators to “stalking.”
“They will walk behind someone in their space, they will go up to the car and make it difficult for them to get out of their car,” she told Australian broadcaster ABC.
Over the weekend, the ABC aired footage showing anti-abortion demonstrators trying to block a client from leaving her car. The client was escorted to the clinic by a security guard, while a voice in the background could be heard shouting, “Don't kill your baby.”
Allanson said the activities of demonstrators has seriously affected some clients.
“Generally it's just very distressing and confronting,” she said.
The main anti-abortion protest group in Melbourne, the Helpers of God's Precious Infants, has responded by arguing an exclusion zone would infringe on their freedom of speech.
Yet with the state Labor party and the Greens both expressing support for exclusion zones, legislation based on Patten's proposal is widely expected to pass the state legislature.