The Australian state of New South Wales passed a “draconian” free speech ban Friday that could send pro-lifers to jail simply for praying or reaching out to women with alternatives outside abortion facilities.
The 150-meter (492 foot) buffer zone around abortion facilities passed the state legislative assembly in a 61-18 vote early Friday morning, 2GB radio news reports.
The legislators who opposed it expressed strong concerns about government censorship and harsh punishments. They said pro-lifers could face jail time simply for handing a woman a pamphlet or speaking to her about pregnancy resources.
Anna von Marburg, a sidewalk counselor with Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, described the law as “draconian” in an interview with ABC. She said they may consider a legal challenge.
“This has always been about offering mothers help and their unborn babies from the horror of abortion, and it’s going to be crime to reach out to mothers and their unborn,” she said.
Interestingly, pro-abortion politicians admitted there is no evidence of pro-lifers harassing women outside abortion facilities.
According to ABC:
During Thursday’s marathon debate on safe access zones, [Albury representative Greg] Aplin spoke in favour of an exclusion zone.
He said while the Albury council and police found no evidence over the years that the protesters were aggressively or unlawfully harassing women, he said it was time for the protesters to move on.
“It needs its time for peace to be reinstated.
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people who grieve for what they consider to be lives lost, and likewise, there’s not something fundamentally wrong with those who protest about that viewpoint.
“But this street is not the place to do it.”
The few who voted against the law expressed very strong concerns about the government restricting people’s freedom. One was pro-abortion Family and Community Services Minister Pru Goward, who told ABC censorship “often begins gently and sensitively.”
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Disability Services Minister Ray Williams also voted no, saying the punishments for violating the law “were an overreach,” 2GB reports.
Meanwhile, Minister for Women Tanya Davies, who also voted against the law, could lose her leadership position as a result.
“They don’t force their views onto those women – they offer support and information that … may not necessarily be provided within an abortion clinic,” Davies said in defense of her vote. “.. they are offering simply another choice to these women – yet this bill will criminalize that offer.”
Pro-abortion lawmakers quickly attacked her. As the local news reports:
Ms Davies’ position also raised the eyebrows of some of her Coalition colleagues, with some now questioning her fitness for the role.
One Government backbencher told the ABC, “I honestly cannot believe that the Minister for Women would vote against women’s safety. Un-f**ckingbelievable”.
Another Coalition MP said, “This bill is about respect, dignity and privacy of women — for the Minister for Women to not support this you have to seriously question if her position is tenable”.
Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher of Sydney said the law is “a direct attack on freedom of religion, speech and association.”
He also accused lawmakers of hypocrisy for not protecting pro-life Catholics who have experienced repeated harassment by protesters every year during a mass for the Day of the Unborn child.
Australian states have become increasingly hostile to pro-life and religious viewpoints. Last year, a mother of 13 was fined $5,000 for offering materials to a couple outside a Melbourne abortion facility, in violation of its buffer zone.