Protests outside abortion clinics are to be outlawed under new laws proposed in Australia's most populous state. The legislation will be debated in the coming days in the New South Wales parliament.
It is estimated that up to 80,000 Australian women terminate a pregnancy each year. While abortion laws vary across the country, in New South Wales the procedure isn't illegal if it safeguards a woman's mental or physical health.
Supporters say a ban on protests outside abortion facilities in Australia's most populous state would protect vulnerable patients from intimidation.
Clinics are often picketed by pro-life campaigners, who have been accused of harassing people trying to enter the facilities.
Penny Sharpe, a member of the New South Wales' upper house of parliament, is co-sponsoring the new legislation.
The proposed bill creates a safe zone within 150 meters of abortion clinics, where "it is not OK to interfere with people, to take their photos or to essentially cause them anxiety and distress when they are trying to go into the clinic," Sharpe said.
Associate professor Kirsten Black, an academic gynecologist at the University of Sydney who used to work at an abortion center, says she often felt uncomfortable.
"There was always protesters outside the hospital, so whenever you entered work there was an intimidating environment," she said. "The presence of these people who are quite menacing can certainly be intimidating."
Anti-abortion protesters, however, feel they have a right to express their views even if they cause distress.
"We take the view that if it is going to save a life, then a bit of confrontation is very well worth it," said one protester, who wouldn’t give his name.
In 2015, the state of Victoria passed a similar law, which made it illegal for anti-abortion groups to harass or film people within 150 meters of a clinic.