Legislation to ban protesters from demonstrating outside abortion clinics has passed through NSW’s Parliament with a great deal of support. The bill passed in spite of the NSW Minister for Women puzzlingly voting against it.
After several hours of impassioned arguing, the bill passed through the Lower House just prior to midnight with 61 votes in favour and 18 against. Gladys Berejiklian, the NSW Premier, and John Barilaro, the Deputy Premier, voted in favour.
The new legislation makes it illegal for anyone to harass or film people within 150m of abortion clinics or hospitals that offer abortions. Anyone caught protesting within 150m will face legal repercussions including time in jail.
One of the major forces in pushing the bill, Labor’s Penny Sharpe, said that the news made it a “terrific day” for New South Wales women. However, Ms Sharpe expressed disappointment that Tanya Davies, the NSW Minister for Women, had voted against the bill.
Ms Davies, who has described herself in the past as being pro-life, and the former NSW Minister for Women, Pru Goward, were both among the 18 who voted against the bill.
Ms Davies defended what she called “sidewalk counsellors” as simply offering women another choice as they enter the abortion clinic. Ms Davies has said that this bill would now “criminalise that offer”.
The shocking nature of the Minister for Women voting against a pro-women’s bill has raised more than a few eyebrows, including among Ms Davies’ Coalition colleagues. There is rumour that her fellows no longer think she is fit for the role.
Pru Goward, who is now the current Family and Community Services Minister, defended Ms Davies’ decision as conforming to her “visceral” belief in the right to freedom of speech. Pru Goward has said that she was always in support of abortion rights but argued that censorship of other beliefs was a slippery slope.