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High Court Rules Clinic Buffer Zones Are Valid

The High Court of Australia has ruled safety buffer zones protecting women from harassment outside abortion clinics in Victoria and Tasmania are valid.

Two anti-abortion protesters who were convicted and fined for protesting too close to clinics in Melbourne and Hobart have lost their bid to challenge safe access laws.

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.

The court unanimously rejected their challenges on Wednesday.

One of the activists, Kathleen Clubb, a mother of 13, was convicted of breaching Victorian law in 2016 and fined $5000 after handing a pamphlet to a couple outside the East Melbourne clinic, within the safe access zone.

Anti-abortion protesters John Graham Preston and Kathleen Clubb are seen leaving the High Court. Image: AAP

The other, Queenslander John Graham Preston, was convicted of three breaches of Tasmanian law in 2014 and 2015 and fined $3000.

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.

Jennifer Kanis who acted on behalf of the clinic said safe access zones protected women’s rights to safely access lawful health services.

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“We welcome today’s decision which has upheld a woman’s right to access her doctor free from fear, intimidation or harassment," Kanis said.

"Safe access zone laws protect the privacy, safety and dignity of women seeking reproductive health care and we are pleased that this decision upholds the primacy of privacy and health outcomes for women.”

Human Right Law Centre senior lawyer Adrianne Walters said the High Court’s decision acknowledged the importance of privacy, safety and equality in access to healthcare.

Demonstrators in favour of safe buffer-zones around NSW abortion clinics stand outside the NSW State Parliament building in Sydney, Thursday, May 24, 2018. Image: AAP

Walters said women in Western Australia and South Australia are still subject to harassment from anti-abortionists because there is no safe zone legislation in those states.

NSW passed safe access zone legislation in June last year.

Khan said the judgement was a culmination of almost two years of bipartisan effort.

The Australian Christian Lobby said the decision was a "disappointment" to free speech.

“The decision means that a simple act of communication – handing a piece of paper to someone – is met with an extreme penalty," managing director Martin Illes said.

“The fragile to non-existent protection for basic democratic freedoms in Australian law has once again been exposed."

With AAP. Featured Image: AAP

Contact the author: vgerova@networkten.com.au