by PILAR MacKINNON and MICHAEL OTTO
Leaders in the pro-life movement say that a bill aimed at establishing 150-metre “safe areas” near abortion facilities on a case-by-case basis is an overreach, and targets behaviour which their groups don’t sanction and have not seen happen.
Parliament passed the first reading of Louisa Wall’s Contraception, Sterilisation, And Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill in a 100-15 conscience vote on March 10. The bill aims to rectify the dropping of safe area provisions during debate last year on the then-Abortion Legislation Bill, which some commentators labelled a parliamentary oversight at the time.
Ms Wall’s bill would prohibit “intimidation, interference or obstruction”, as well as “communicating with, or visually recording” a protected person — so that it would cause “emotional distress . . .”. Conviction could see a fine of up to $1000. Ms Wall said abortion is not a crime, but a health issue, and patients have rights to access this without disturbance of any kind.
Family Life International’s Michelle Kaufman said her experience in being outside abortion facilities does not align with the claims made by Ms Wall and her supporters. FLI’s protests and vigils outside abortion clinics are always done peacefully and without aggravation or force, Mrs Kaufman said.
“It should be noted that anyone who participates in 40 Days for Life, or any of FLI’s weekly prayer vigils outside abortion centres, are required to sign a statement of peace. We have very clear directives about how we expect our people to behave, always radiating the love of Christ, even in the face of opposition.”
“It has been said, often, that a woman who chooses abortion does so because she believes she has no other choice . . . I would say that freedom to offer help should never be limited, nor should the freedom to pray, or to peacefully gather,” Mrs Kaufman added.
Right to Life’s Ken Orr said that, in his 50 years of involvement with the pro-life movement, and during his involvement in many prayer vigils outside abortion facilities, he had never seen or heard of harassment or intimidation of women.
Should the bill become law, “Right to Life requests that the government produce irrefutable evidence that women are being harassed at abortion facilities [and] produce evidence that the Summary Offences Act is inadequate to deal with any civil disorders.”
A report from the Law Commission to the Minister of Justice in 2018 noted that “there are several laws in New Zealand that could address intimidating or anti-social behaviour at places where abortions occur”.
The report noted that the Law Commission “sought input from health professional bodies, abortion service providers and health practitioners about safe access zones. The majority felt that safe access zones were not needed”.
The Law Commission stated it did not suggest the introduction of safe access zones, but added that the option could be open to a Government should demonstrations “intensify” in the future.
In its report, the Law Commission also noted that any limits placed on rights enshrined in the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act through the imposition of safe access zones “would need to be carefully considered to ensure they are reasonable and justified”.
Several of the speakers in the first reading in Parliament said they would support the bill at first reading, so it could go to select committee, but that freedom of speech concerns would have to be addressed in order to guarantee their continued support.
Attorney-General David Parker was one such speaker, noting that a New Zealand Bill of Rights Act vet of the bill indicated its provisions
that limit the freedom of expression go “further than is necessary to achieve the purpose which it seeks to achieve”. He suggested changes should be made.
Pro-life figures also expressed concern at some of the language freely expressed by pro-abortion MPs in the first reading debate. Ms Wall used the expression “condoned violence against women”. Other commentators said some of the speeches grossly mischaracterised what the pro-life movement does and is.