Pages tagged "Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill"

  • Safe Areas Bill a brazen attack on freedom of speech and right to protest

    The so-called Safe Areas Bill will have its second reading in Parliament tomorrow. It’s a brazen attack on freedom of speech and the right to protest, made more offensive by the fact that some of the MPs who support it cut their political teeth exercising that same right.

    The Bill, sponsored by Labour MP Louisa Wall and subject to a conscience vote, would allow the Minister of Health to designate 150-metre “safe areas” around abortion clinics from which protesters would be barred. It appears to be a unique protection accorded no other public buildings.

    Officially named the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill, the legislation threatens to curtail the right of anti-abortion activists to maintain even silent, passive vigils outside abortion clinics.

    It has been promoted on the pretext that vulnerable patients attending abortion clinics risk being intimidated, obstructed and harassed. Yet the Christchurch-based anti-abortion group Right to Life submitted Official Information Requests to 20 district health boards inquiring whether patients or staff had suffered any such harassment or intimidation during the two years from 2019 to 2021, and none reported any.

    So the need for “safe areas” has not been demonstrated and the Bill should be seen for what it is: an attempt to shut down legitimate protest against a practice that conservative Christians regard as profoundly wrong, but which is celebrated by the political Left as a defining triumph of feminism.

    The Bill passed its first reading last March by a margin of 100 to 15 with two abstentions, but that’s not necessarily an indication of how MPs will vote the second time around. ACT’s 10 MPs all voted in favour of the Bill then, but party leader David Seymour said he had concerns about freedom of expression and wanted the Bill properly examined by a select committee. 

    Only three Labour MPs – Anahila Kanongata’a Suisuiki, Jamie Strange and Rino Tirikatene – voted against it. All Green MPs supported it and National was split: 19 in favour and 12 against. Christopher Luxon, who has since become the party leader, was one of those opposed.

    Trevor Mallard and Chris Hipkins supported the Bill. Both were arrested for protest activity before they launched their political careers but later had their convictions overturned. They apparently see no inconsistency in denying others a right they once vigorously asserted for themselves. 

    The Bill will become law because of its overwhelming support from Labour and the Greens, but interest will centre on whether any MPs change their position now that the Bill has been through the select committee process. The vote will be a test of their commitment to the principles not just of free speech but of freedom of assembly and religion.

    Seymour wasn’t the only person concerned about the threat to free speech. Even David Parker, who as Attorney-General was statutorily obliged to report to the House on whether the Bill complied with the Bill of Rights Act (BORA), conceded that a clause which would have criminalised the act of “communicating” with abortion patients in a manner likely to cause distress was “overly broad” and appeared inconsistent with BORA.

    In its submission opposing the Bill the Free Speech Union agreed with that conclusion, but pointed out to the select committee that the legislation wasn’t necessary in the first place because protection against intimidation or threats is provided under existing law. The Summary Offences Act, for example, makes it an offence to direct insulting or threatening words at another person. There is also a legal prohibition against harassment – a word whose definition, the union said, would be expanded under Wall’s Bill.

    The union went on to say: “It is not the speech of the majority that requires vigilant protection. It is the speech of the few that must be jealously guarded.” The union cautioned that the traditional legal test of what is “reasonable” was in danger of becoming one of what was “comfortable”. 

    In a spirited defence of the right to dissent, it said: “We are flummoxed by the suggestion that in a democracy, where government is created by people of different interests and beliefs, some ideas are deemed too different or disagreeable to be allowed. This suggestion is antithetical to democracy.”

    The Bill that’s returning to the House tomorrow gives the impression of having been toned down, but it’s illusory. While the clause that failed the BORA test has gone, that doesn’t make the Bill any more palatable. Under the amended version, any person who “engages in protest about matters relating to the provision of abortion services” within a “safe areas” zone would be committing a criminal act. 

    It’s hard to imagine a more sweeping provision. The new section would give activist judges – who have proliferated in the 32 years since the passage of BORA, as the union noted in its submission – licence to convict people for doing nothing more menacing than silently praying on a public street anywhere within 150 metres of an abortion facility.  This can only have a chilling effect on the right to protest. 

    Regardless of their views on abortion, those who believe in free speech and the associated right to protest should take careful note of how MPs vote. National and ACT MPs, in particular, will be watched to see whether their votes align with their parties’ supposed commitment to freedom.

    Written by Karl du Fresne, reprinted by request from his personal blog.  

    Disclosure: The writer is opposed, in general terms, to abortion on demand but views that as irrelevant to the issue of free speech and freedom of assembly.

  • Free Speech Union's submission on the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill

    Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill – hearing of evidence (5 May 2021)

    This Member’s bill provides a regulation-making power to set up safe areas around specific abortion facilities on a case-by-case basis.

    Presented on behalf of the Free Speech Union by Dane Giraud. Text prepared by Dane Giraud & Patrick Corish.

    Tena Koutou,

    If there has been any frustration volunteering for the Free Speech Coalition it would be in the number of critics who suggest that to support a certain voice or message, we must in some way sympathize with the voice or message.

    This is an allegation no one with even a cursory understanding of the concept of FREE SPEECH could possibly make.

    When we defended the rights of touring YouTube provocateurs Stephan Molyneux and Lauren Southern - to hire and speak in an Auckland City Council building - we were defending the climate change activists, the feminists, the trans-activists – anyone who may see fit to hire a council building in the future.

    In the Free Speech game, we must always have an eye on the future.

    This is our core job: not to defend specific views, but to act as a buttress against the setting of worrying precedents that could be used to silence any view.

    Now, as tempting as it may be to consider this specific topic as separate, unique, and demanding special considerations - you do New Zealanders a grave disservice if you do so.  Like us, we urge you to consider the impact of this Bill on our collective tomorrow. And what this Bill does – with its brazen undermining of our right to freedom of expression – is risk the right of all New Zealanders to engage in that pillar of democracy...


    What is protest? According to one dictionary definition - "A usually organized public demonstration of disapproval". I'd posit all progressive movements, and movements for social change, have featured some form of public protest. We protest to put pressure on power. We do it to draw attention to minority issues the media cannot or will not cover. And we do it to try to convince others of the validity of our cause and to find allies. We must be committed to peaceful protest - and in that, we are not immune from laws against harassment, intimidation, wilful damage, etc. But this does not mean that protests are a timid affair.

    Protest is more often robust, employing powerful rhetoric, imagery, and provocative sloganeering. A protester is seeking 'cut-through and to appeal to the conscience via the emotions, and most of us have accepted that there will be protest movements led by fellow citizens that will attack our value systems and sensibilities. Protests are meant to upset and even seriously disturb us. What this bill seeks to do is to deny the democratic right and violate the equality of a single protest movement through safe zones that would render protest ineffective by taking away the all-important proximity to a certain key location. Potential protesters will be scared of, by the highly subjective language used in the bill, which will make them unsure of exactly where the line between legal and illegal sits. 

    And all for one issue.

    If the bill is required in this case, why can't it be applied to the anti-Israel movement?

    In anti-Israel protests you are guaranteed to see swastikas in mock Israeli flags – the sign of a regime that slaughtered 6,000,000 Jews attributed to Jews themselves as a way of making some sort of demented comparison. Protesters on Queen Street have been seen wearing Hezbollah T-shirts, a group whose leaders espouse genocidal rhetoric against the Jewish people.  Distressing images of dead children are paraded around alongside chants calling for the end of the Jewish state, the end of Jewish autonomy and safety. How is the average Jew who passes these grotesque displays likely to be made to feel?

    So, consider banning such protests outside their places of worship? Why not embassies, then? Or any gathering Jews or Israelis could be attending? Such protests are objectively distressing to Jewish people, but these activists should still have the right to express their political opinions, however unsettling because removing the rights of this movement could be used to justify removing the rights of any movement. We have existing harassment laws to punish any protesters who cross the line, and this should be sufficient to moderate the conduct outside abortion clinics also. 

    The distress that one feels in receiving a message, a protest, or an appeal is a personal affair. As I have said, protests may very well disturb and distress. Most worthwhile communications about ethics will cause distress. Because we are dealing with right and wrong, the oughts and ought nots. Disagreement can be emotionally taxing. But as adults in society, these conversations are some of the most rewarding to have.

    We tolerate speech that leads to children being tormented at the thought of a climate apocalypse. This is clearly a distressing issue to many of our young. But it is an important issue, some climate advocates would no doubt say, and the force of rhetoric is vital to communicating the immediacy of the threat. Pro-lifers feel the same. Why deny their right to communicate a message at the last point where they feel they could make a difference? Why deny them that right when we have movements that actively seek to psychologically scar children that you and I know will never be policed? As is so often the case, when the state plays censor we see this type of absurd bias, which amounts to a violation of equality.

    There is another concerning dimension to this current trend of censorship - that of certain factions clearly viewing illiberal policy as a way to limit the influence on other adult citizens, of views they don't agree with.

    As a hypothetical, what if one potential mother was to be convinced by some of the messaging they saw on the way inside a clinic and chose – of their own free volition - not to then follow through with the procedure? I wonder, would that be seen as a positive or a negative by the authors of this Bill? Because this is an outcome the Bill actively seems to want to control. We focus on the messengers a lot in these debates, but what about a person's right to receive information? Yes, even information they thought they didn't want. Limiting exposure to perfectly legal counter-messaging should never, ever be an activity of the state. 

    We can protect the women visiting these clinics with existing laws. You know it. I know it. That should really be the end of it. We can protect them. Laws exist now that address intimidation and harassment. But this bill goes beyond offering further remedies against such behavior. It seeks to outlaw communication in general. Good-faith communication. Communication that goes to the heart of a moral matter. The Bill does say that the only communication outlawed would be that which an ordinary reasonable person would consider distressing.

    But in honesty, that could be all communication that deals with an emotionally charged phenomenon like abortion. Again, matters of an ethical nature are distressing. They wouldn’t be discussions worth having otherwise.

    If this bill is successful, this won't be the last of it. In a short space of time, the harrowing imagery and rhetoric of the climate change movement could be delimited using a comparable law by climate-denying zealots. The anti-Israel movement too. Anti-war movements in general. The excuse will be that there is a precedent for limiting protest deemed to be too unsettling for the sensibilities of select members of the public. Any wound on protest movements is a wound on our democracy. And this Bill will certainly inflict a wound on subsequent protest movements. We would urge that you think beyond the topic, and to the all-but-certain ramifications, and to use this bill as a reminder that people did not vote you in to undermine their basic democratic rights. The Free Speech Coalition, respectfully ask that you vote this bill down.

    Nga Mihi

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