Safe access for WA abortion clinics


Charlotte Cooper

Pro-choice protestors (CC BY 2.0)

Henry Sims, Reporter

The McGowan Government has taken the first steps towards introducing safe access zones outside abortion clinics in Western Australia. 

The State Government have begun work on a discussion paper that will explore the introduction of safe access zones – designed to introduce a buffer to move protesters away from premises providing certain health services, such as abortion, reproductive and fertility health. 

Safe exclusion zones already exist in NSW, Victoria, the ACT and the NT. 

In a statement released on International Women’s Day, the McGowan Government threw its support behind the initiative.

Health Minister Roger Cook, who will oversee the discussion paper being produced by the Department of Health, said in a statement that he supports the introduction of these zones. 

“All patients in Western Australia have a right to safety, privacy and respect when accessing healthcare.  

“I can only imagine the distress a patient will experience when they arrive at a clinic to undergo a legal medical procedure and are confronted with a group of protesters.” 

Marie Stopes Midland is a contraceptive and abortion clinic in WA which has been affected by protesting.

Gemma Black, co-convenor for Labor For Choice, a pro-choice group of WA Labor members, said this was not only an issue for people accessing the clinic but also for the staff working there. 

“The people that work there are also being harassed. People should be able to go to work without fear of harassment.” 

These statements follow the recent prayer vigils organised by the Perth chapter of 40 Days For Life, an international anti-abortion group, started in Texas in 2004. 

Stephen Klomp, the Perth spokesperson for 40 Days For Life, disputes that their group has harassed staff or anyone else accessing health services, saying: “We don’t actually protest, we’re a peaceful, prayerful vigil and we don’t even approach anyone, we smile and wave sometimes if people smile and wave at us, but we actually wait until people approach us and then we offer assistance where we can.” 

Marie Stopes spokesperson, Jacquie O’Brien said this was not her experience with protesters. “We have a different experience. We have had staff and patients approached, their cars are stopped, they’re given leaflets, they’re given packs. 

“While it may seem like a peaceful activity, for many patients it’s actually deeply upsetting.” 

Mr Klomp denied that 40 Days For Life engaged in harassment, saying they didn’t infringe on the clinics space. “What we do at [Marie Stopes Midland] is we occupy the public street verge, public land, we don’t obstruct the footpath, we don’t obstruct the driveway.” 

On the 40 Days For Life Facebook group, the banner image is of a group of supporters standing on the footpath directly outside the clinic. 

40 Days For Life protestors outside Marie Stopes Clinic. Taken from: 40 Days For Life – Perth, Facebook

Ms O’Brien says during the ongoing protests organised by 40 Days For Life coinciding with Lent, two protesters had posed as patients to the clinic, gone through the security doors leaving anti-abortion pamphlets in the waiting room. These actions were in direct breach of a permit the group had been issued by WA Police. 

Philip Goldstone, the medical director of Marie Stopes, said on the organisation’s website that he has had many negative experiences with protesters outside clinics. 

“I am used to being told  daily that I am going to hell. I am used to standing up to protesters who block my path when I am entering my workplace. I can handle the criticism spat at me angrily by strangers. I can do this because I strongly believe in providing sexual and reproductive health services to Australians no matter who they are or where they are.” 

The Minister for Women’s Interests, Simone McGurk spoke out in support of safe exclusion zones when the announcement was first made.    

“On International Women’s Day it is timely that we acknowledge the rights of women to access medical procedures in a safe manner and without undue distress. 

“Safe access zones are a vital step in ensuring that women can maintain their safety and wellbeing during what is a difficult time.”