Clearing the way for access to reproductive health services in the ACT (2015)

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On Thursday 29 October 2015 members of the ACT Legislative Assembly passed the Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015. This means that the ACT now has protected areas around termination of pregnancy services to ensure safe and private access for women and their support people. This sends the strong message that our elected representatives value and are willing to defend safe and private access to health services for all Canberrans.

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People often assume that the issues surrounding access to reproductive health services have been resolved in the ACT. Too often those within our community that support access to reproductive health services are silent—they may assume that where additional work needs to be done, someone else is taking care of it.

Termination of pregnancy has been legal in the ACT since 2002, and is regulated like other health services provided by a medical practitioner to their patients. Yet over the past sixteen years, some women accessing termination of pregnancy services in the ACT have had to pass Right to Life protestors.

You may have seen recent media coverage about the prayer vigils that are still being held outside a Canberra clinic. We believe that by staging their protest outside a health service, the Right to Life protesters engage in behaviour that violates others’ rights to unimpeded access to health services and to medical privacy.  There are no other health services in the ACT for which patients and health professionals are subject to such public commentary, protest and condemnation.

Protests at the location where termination of pregnancy services are provided do impede access. Women and their families can feel considerable distress when exposed to anti-choice protestors as they enter clinics. Even silent vigils convey disapproval and judgement, and contribute to distress in women and their families.

ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury has drafted a Bill to give a relevant Minister in the ACT the power to create a protected area around any approved health facility that provides termination of pregnancy services. It is called the Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015, and is out for public consultation until September 11, 2015.

The protected area, also known as a privacy zone, buffer zone, access zone or exclusion zone, will place a bubble around clinics that provide termination of pregnancy services. The purpose of the bubble is to ensure that women and their families can seek medical advice and treatment in privacy and without harassment, intimidation or humiliation.

In creating a protected area, the task of the Minister is to look at the rights that we have as members of this community and balance them against each other. The rights that we have to privacy and unimpeded access to health services need to be weighed against the right that we have to freedom of expression.

For those who wish to campaign to restrict women’s reproductive choices, there are plenty of opportunities and locations in which to do so. The space immediately outside clinics should not be one of them. Establishing protected areas outside these facilities would provide the reassurance and security that women, their families and healthcare staff need.

The Women’s Centre for Health Matters (WCHM) and Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT) support Canberrans’ private and unimpeded access to the health services they need, including termination of pregnancy services.

Read WCHM’s submission to the Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015:

WCHM Submission to Health Patient Privacy Amendment Bill 2015

WCHM Submission to Health Patient Privacy Amendment Bill 2015

And show your support at www.rightofway.org.au in three ways: write a letter, sign a petition, and contact the Women’s Centre for Health Matters with your views. Don’t stop at one, get in there and do all three!