The High Court has ruled safety buffer zones protecting women from harassment outside abortion clinics in Victoria and Tasmania are valid.
Two anti-abortion activists asked the High Court whether laws creating a 150-metre buffer zone outside abortion clinics infringed on free speech after they were convicted and fined for protesting too close to clinics in Melbourne and Hobart.
However, the court unanimously rejected their challenges to the laws on Wednesday.
One of the activists, Kathleen Clubb, a mother of 13, was convicted of breaching Victorian law in 2016 and fined $5,000 after handing a pamphlet to a couple outside the East Melbourne clinic, within the safe access zone.
The other, Queenslander John Preston, was convicted of three breaches of Tasmanian law in 2014 and 2015 and fined $3,000.
The activists asked the court to review their convictions, arguing the safety zone laws breached the implied freedom of political communication in the Australian constitution.
Prohibited behaviour inside a zone includes harassment and intimidation, communicating in a way that is reasonably likely to cause distress or anxiety, and filming without consent.
The states say the laws are designed to protect the privacy, safety, dignity, and wellbeing of patients and staff.
The Australian Christian Lobby branded the outcome disappointing for freedom of speech.
“The decision means that a simple act of communication—handing a piece of paper to someone—is met with an extreme penalty. A criminal conviction is an outrageous punishment for such a simple and harmless act,” the lobby’s Martyn Iles said.
Victoria introduced safe access zone laws in 2016, while Tasmania introduced them as part decriminalising abortion in 2013. NSW, the ACT, the Northern Territory, and Queensland also have safe access zone laws.
By Melissa Iaria