There are calls for NSW Minister for Women Tanya Davies to stand down after she voted against “safe zones” outside abortion clinics. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts
There are calls for NSW Minister for Women Tanya Davies to stand down after she voted against “safe zones” outside abortion clinics. Picture: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts

Why this woman needs to resign

OPINION

LAST night, a historic bill to ban protesters from harassing women outside abortion clinics passed the New South Wales Parliament in a landslide.

It's a massive victory for women - and men who care about women.

Because it means from now on, women and their partners will be free to enter a clinic or hospital without being accused of murder.

They will no longer be forced to see activists holding up placards with graphic images of dead babies.

And they'll be spared from hysterical slogans making wild claims that abortion causes cancer, or suicide, or infertility, or any of the other ridiculous, unproven "facts" pro-lifers regularly spout.

The bill passed easily without amendment, with 61 in favour and just 18 against.

But among the handful of names who spoke out and voted against the introduction of 150-metre "safe access zones", two clearly stuck out: Minister for Women Tanya Davies, and Minister for Family and Community Services and former sex discrimination minister, Pru Goward.

Let me repeat that.

Two women, whose job it is - and was - to advocate for women and act in their best interests, actively tried to ensure NSW women continued to be bullied and hounded for seeking a medical procedure.

It's an act of betrayal so shocking it's almost laughable.

Former sex discrimination minister Pru Goward opposed the bill with a “heavy heart”. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian
Former sex discrimination minister Pru Goward opposed the bill with a “heavy heart”. Picture: Hollie Adams/The Australian

Ms Goward said she made the decision with a "heavy heart" - because while she is a strong supporter of the right to seek abortion, she also saw the bill as a "very powerful weapon of censorship".

But let's be very clear - this law is not taking away anyone's right to free speech or protest.

No one is stopping anti-abortion protesters from speaking their mind. Pro-lifers will still be able to shout their views all over the country - just not within these relatively tiny exclusion zones.

As Health Minister Brad Hazzard, a safe zone supporter, argued yesterday: "Free speech and the right to protest can occur here outside the Parliament. It can occur in streets around Sydney, it can occur in the streets right across this state and indeed right across this nation."

The only thing being taken away here is the freedom to intimidate women who are seeking a serious, legal, medical procedure at a very vulnerable time in their lives.

The justification from Ms Davies, a staunch pro-lifer, was even less convincing.

She claimed that protesters were actually "sidewalk counsellors" who were actually helping women make a "truly informed decision".

"They are providing the other pieces of information that some women choose to accept. They don't force their views on to these women. They are offering simply another choice," Fairfax reported Ms Davies as saying.

Well, Ms Davies, I beg to differ.

NSW Minister for Women Tanya Davies says pro-life protesters are “sidewalk counsellors”. Picture: Eugene Hyland
NSW Minister for Women Tanya Davies says pro-life protesters are “sidewalk counsellors”. Picture: Eugene Hyland

Forcing their views on to women is exactly what they are doing. If holding up placards with pictures of dead children and cruel slogans isn't "forcing their views", I honestly don't know what is.

Ms Davies' decision was so shocking one government backbencher even described it as "un-f**cking-believable", telling the ABC, "I honestly cannot believe that the Minister for Women would vote against women's safety."

And that's what it all comes down to: safety. Because let's not kid ourselves - these campaigners do real harm to real people, all the time.

In July 2001, security guard Steve Rogers was shot and killed outside an abortion clinic in East Melbourne - ironically, at the hands of zealot Peter James Knight, who claimed to be pro-life.

But even without the real or imagined threat of violence, pro-life campaigners can still devastate patients seeking an abortion.

Clinics have reported women bursting into tears after seeing protesters, with some even skipping their appointment altogether, or cancelling follow-up care as they're just too intimidated to face them again.

For many women who opt for a termination, the decision will be one of the toughest and most heartbreaking they will ever make.

Demonstrators in favour of safe buffer-zones around NSW abortion clinics gathered outside the NSW State Parliament building in Sydney last month. Picture: AAP Image/David Moir
Demonstrators in favour of safe buffer-zones around NSW abortion clinics gathered outside the NSW State Parliament building in Sydney last month. Picture: AAP Image/David Moir

For others, it's an easy, anguish-free choice but still not one that is taken lightly, because by all accounts, terminations are painful, uncomfortable and unpleasant.

In other words, it's a very vulnerable time and one that shouldn't be made worse by complete strangers brandishing placards and rosary beads.

Obviously, I disagree - strongly - with every single individual who opposed the bill.

But in Ms Goward and Ms Davies' case, it's not just an indication of dodgy morals - it's a clear conflict of interest.

In fact, Ms Davies' actions have sparked so much outrage that many are saying her position is now untenable, and that she should be forced to resign. Immediately.

And I can't say I disagree.



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