Ms JODI McKAY (Strathfield) (18:34): I add my support to the Public Health Amendment (Safe Access to Reproductive Health) Bill 2018 introduced into the Legislative Council by the Hon. Penny Sharpe, co‑sponsored by the Hon. Trevor Khan, and introduced in this place by the member for Port Macquarie. I do so because I believe this bill is about common decency. It is about ensuring that women are free from harassment, intimidation and abuse. As we have heard today, some women will visit a reproductive health clinic to seek a termination. But to presume all women visiting a clinic are making a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy is at best naive. Women visit reproductive health clinics for a range of reasons. For instance, they may be seeking contraception advice, be victims of sexual assault, be seeking advice on managing menopause or they may be facing the end of a very much wanted pregnancy.
How are we to know the circumstances of those women, and who are we to judge them harshly? It is important to note that judgement is often inflicted on these women as they make the long and difficult journey to a reproductive health clinic. That is what this bill seeks to prevent. For me it is not why women attend these clinics that is important. What is important is the fundamental right that every woman—in fact, every person—has at all times to be free from intimidation, harassment and abuse and to freely and safely make the choice that is best for them. That is not the case in New South Wales. I sincerely believe this bill is not about abortion. It does not seek to alter the law in relation to abortion or to decriminalise it. I know that issue will dominate the contributions of some to this debate. As I said, for me and many others this bill is about common decency. For members on this side of the House it is not a matter of conscience that a woman should be free from violence and abuse. We understand and accept the right of every person to be safe.
Last week I had a discussion with a young man in my electorate. I will not mention his name. He wrote me a lovely handwritten note—not an email—to ask me to vote against this bill. I very much appreciated his effort in contacting me, and I said so in our conversation. He is one of those people who visit the Surry Hills and Westmead clinics and approach women as they enter them. We had a long conversation, which he kept steering towards the wrongs of abortion. My point to him was to remove that from the debate. I asked him, "In any other circumstance do you believe a woman should be treated the way they currently are when they visit the clinics?" It was a question he did not and could not fully answer. We respectfully agreed to disagree, but I was grateful for the opportunity to talk to him. I am also grateful to the many people who have written to me about this. I thank them all for taking the time to contact me.
I note the arguments put forward by those opposing this bill. They prosecute their position through the argument of freedom of religion and freedom of speech. I am generally an advocate for both of those, but this is not about speech or religion. It is about the right of a woman to be safe at all times. This bill does not prohibit someone from voicing their views on abortion in any other forum. It applies only within 150 metres of clinics where terminations are performed. For me, being pro-choice does not mean I am a supporter of abortion. I am far from that. Being pro-choice means that I respect the right of a person to make the choice that is best for them, free of judgement and criticism and certainly free of abuse. Once they have made their choice our health system should facilitate the appropriate care and support they need in a very difficult situation.
I thank the many women who have contacted me about this issue, such as Renata from my electorate, who said:
It is absolutely unacceptable that women can be shouted at by strangers or be told that they are going to hell if they are attempting to access an abortion clinic. A woman who needs an abortion should be able to access this healthcare with dignity, freedom from the judgement and abuse of strangers who know nothing about her life, nothing about the circumstances that have brought her to the clinic.
Many in this House will know that I had strong feelings on Zoe's Law when it was introduced into this place in 2012. I was not a member of Parliament at that time, but I did discuss the issue with many members who were serving during that term. During that debate medical and legal experts guided my view—it was an evidence-based view that was formed by understanding all the arguments. I have brought that same approach to this bill. I note the comments of the Australian Medical Association, which said:
AMA (NSW) supports this because people should be able to have unobstructed access to the healthcare facilities and be able to approach them without harassment. This is true of general practice, cancer treatment, surgery, or sexual health. In the case of pregnancy termination, women do not seek these procedures out lightly and the absolute last thing anyone in those circumstances needs is abuse from strangers.
I have also discussed this issue with serving police officers, who admit the current move-on law, which allows protesters to return the same day, is inadequate. Then there are the witness statements that are required for the matter to progress through to the court. It is unreasonable to expect a woman to provide a statement on the abuse and harassment she has experienced at what is a very difficult time. The choice she has made is not one taken without thought and a great deal of anguish.
It is for those reasons, and from speaking to women who have been in this situation, that I support this bill. It is also important to note that this is not just a city issue. The support of the bill by the Country Women's Association [CWA] certainly strengthens the argument that this is an issue for all women, no matter where they live. I draw the attention of the House to the CWA's reason for supporting the bill. It said:
For the CWA, the passage of this Bill should not be focused on a debate about the ethical and personal opinions in relation to abortion. We do not have a policy position on this issue but this is not what the Bill is about. Debate should focus on women's rights to safely access reproductive services; even if those services are not something that everyone would use, or indeed, agree with.
That statement captures my reasons for supporting the bill. I take this opportunity to highlight the great inequality that exists around access to women's health services more generally in rural New South Wales. I know the CWA is a strong advocate for equal access to women's health services. I thank the member for Port Stephens for telling the story of women who attended the Albury clinic, and I thank the member for Albury for his contribution to the debate. I know that for the member for Albury in particular this would not be an easy decision to make and I certainly appreciate the effort he has gone to in order to reach a conclusion that allows him to vote on this bill.
I will not go through the details of the bill—that has already been done by speakers in this debate before me in this place and in the Legislative Council. But I will say that I support this bill wholeheartedly, and I thank those members in the Legislative Council and in the Legislative Assembly who understand the responsibility they have to ensure that women everywhere, no matter the choices they make, are free of intimidation, abuse and harassment. The current law is simply not adequate. I particularly thank the Hon. Penny Sharpe and the Hon. Trevor Khan—they have shown time and time again what can be achieved by working together on very difficult issues.
I thank our shadow Minister, the member for Maitland, who led for the Opposition in the debate. I also thank the member for Canterbury, who could not be here today. She is an unwavering champion of issues impacting women. I thank the member for Port Macquarie, who is in the Chamber today, and also the Dr Mehreen Faruqi from The Greens. And, of course, I thank my Labor colleagues, who, despite holding varied views on abortion, came together to support this important legislative change, believing fundamentally in the right of a woman to be safe at all times. I commend the bill to the House.