Students urge Government for abortion no-protest buffer zone around hospital

A group of high school students are petitioning the Government to create a no-protest buffer zone around Wellington Hospital, in an attempt to stop anti-abortion activists protesting outside clinics. 

Northern Irish women seeking an abortion can travel to England to have one privately for free.
Source: 1 NEWS

The petition was created for a social studies assignment by Wellington Girls' College students Ellie Fuehrer, Charlotte Lynch, Stacey Dalziel and Caitlin Marshall. 

(L-R) Caitlin Marshall, Ellie Fuehrer, Charlotte Lynch, Stacey Dalziel. Source: Supplied

As of 1.30pm today, 784 have signed the petition, asking to "protect people seeking abortions, pedestrians, and other patients from harassment".

"A hospital, or the area near hospital grounds, is not an appropriate place to protest; it is a place of recovery and care, and by establishing a buffer zone we would retain that," the petition states. 

Ellie said since starting the story they had received feedback from "women who have had to go and get abortions, even for miscarriages, and it's been really hard for them emotionally". 

"It takes up space, it's harassment, it's confronting and a lot of these people going in and out of the hospital, it's not something they need to be confronted with right there. It would be much more appropriate to take those anti-abortion arguments to Parliament.

"It's a hospital. There's not just people seeking abortions but there's a lot of sick and unwell people."

Charlotte told 1 NEWS that the group were advised to pick a topic they were passionate about.

"After hearing all the news about the legislation in Australia in Victoria which input the safe access zones preventing to protests outside abortion clinics, we thought this might be something that is achievable to do over here."

Ellie said she thought it "seemed pretty awful" for people to walk past while seeking an abortion. 

"We feel really passionate about making abortion more accessible in New Zealand... It makes us feel like we're actually further back a step than we thought we were."

Caitlin said she could not "imagine what that would be like as a woman seeking out an abortion, or even just a hospital patient, to see that every day". 

"Seeing how many people are affected by these protesters really puts it in perspective for us and we believe it’s a really big issue that hopefully this petition can start a conversation," Ellie said. 

Abortion Law Reform Assoc NZ expressed their disappointment last month a suggestion for buffer zones "to prevent harassment of people seeking abortion care" was not included in the Law Commission's briefing paper on abortion reform

Terry Bellamak said "safe access zones will protect people receiving abortion care from the targeted harassment that occurs internationally in many places and makes receiving abortion care stigmatised and stressful".

"Most abortion services in New Zealand have been located in public hospitals, making it difficult for anti-choice protesters to distinguish whom to target. If Parliament takes up the Law Commission's excellent suggestion to provide abortions in smaller, community-based clinics, those clinics could become the target of more active protest and more violent rhetoric.

"Clinics may be slower to take up providing abortions if they fear having groups of elderly men with gory signs stationed right outside their front door."

Voice for Life - Right to Life

Bernard Moran of Voice for Life said they call their presence outside abortion clinics "sidewalk counselling or a prayer vigil, whereas abortion rights advocates… call it harassment, which conjures up an image of aggressive behaviour.

"An important factor here is that if any anti-abortion protester acted in a way that was real harassment - such as shouting abuse, physically getting in the way of a woman patient, or any other form of intimidating behaviour; then the clinic staff would be perfectly justified in calling the Police on the grounds that the protesters were creating a public disorder.

"There are three young adults who stand outside Hastings Hospital when abortions are performed every Thursday," he said, saying in that time numerous abortions had been prevented. 

Right to Life spokesperson Ken Orr told 1 NEWS there were many women in New Zealand "who are most grateful that there were pro-life people who were there outside abortion clinics to offer support and help to choose life for their precious child. 

"Right to Life supports the right of law abiding citizens to pray outside of the Wellington Hospital and to offer care and assistance to any woman who may be attending the Hospital for an abortion. The NZ Bill of Rights guarantees the right of free speech and assembly."

Freedom of Speech

Canterbury academic Melissa Derby said she thought creating a no-protest buffer zone could set a precedent.

"It's such a tricky topic because I think people's views become clouded by the emotion that surrounds abortion - from both sides," she said. 

When asked if she thought that this would impact the abortion protesters' free speech, she said that it must be remembered "there is a duty of care that comes with free speech.

"Free speech isn't an absolute right, nor do I think it should be. People have a right to express their views, but I always hope this is done in a respectful and decent way.

"Abortion is always going to be an extremely emotive issue that creates heated debate from both 'sides'. However, the real issue here, of course, is that creating a no-protest zone sets a precedent for other protests to be banned, and I think that is a dangerous road to head down."