High Court protects women’s safe access to abortion clinics
Today the High Court of Australia made a decision which maintains greatly needed legal protections for women seeking reproductive health care - including abortion- in Tasmania and Victoria. NSWCCL welcomes this unanimous upholding of the current laws in these states.
The provisions, which provide these protections within a 150-metre safe access zone, had been challenged by anti - abortion campaigners who argued they infringed their right to free speech and political protest.
In rejecting this line of argument, the High Court found that any impediment to free speech or political protest caused by its prohibition within this limited 150 metre zone was ‘negligible’.
This accords with the position NSWCCL took in supporting the passage of the NSW Safe Access to Reproductive Health Clinics legislation in 2018. We took this position as an organisation which has defended civil liberties for over 50 years and approaches any law which limits free speech or political freedom with great caution. We considered the NSW legislation to be necessary and reasonable.
The High Court decision today provides a very welcome level of certainty as to the constitutionality of the NSW safe access zone provisions.
The decision not only provides clarity as to the constitutionality of existing provisions it also provides a context which should facilitate the extension of these much-needed legal protections to women in Western Australia and South Australia.
We extend our thanks to the Human Rights Law Centre and the Melbourne Fertility Control Clinic for their submissions to the High Court in defence of the safe access zones.
In NSW we must now turn our attention to the achievement of abortion law reform in this term of government.
5 April 2019
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) condemns political interference in the ABC, in the wake of a Senate Report finding political interference in the ABC by the government.
On 1 April, on the eve of the Federal Budget, the Senate Standing Committee on Environment and Communications published its report on “The allegations of political interference in the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC)”. The committee found that “political interference or the prospect of political interference, and all that that entails, is experienced to varying degrees throughout the ABC.” It also found that “the Coalition Government has been complicit in the events of 2018 and beyond, by using funding as a lever to exert political influence in the ABC.”Read more
4 April 2019
NSW Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) has urged the Iranian authorities to release Nasrin Sotoudeh, a human rights lawyer.
Originally arrested in June last year, Sotoudeh has been sentenced to 38 years imprisonment and 148 lashes. The allegations against her include “assembly and collusion against national security,” “propaganda against the state,” membership in various human rights groups, “disturbing public peace and order” and “publishing falsehoods with the intent to disturb public opinion.” Amnesty International has adopted her as a prisoner of conscience.Read more
21 March 2019
On 13 March, the High Court of Australia handed down what is widely considered one of the most significant cases on native title since the famous Mabo 2. The case considered the rights of the Ngaliwurru and Nungalli peoples to compensation in relation to their traditional lands in the Northern Territory.
The basic principle of native title is that where Aboriginal people can show that they have traditionally used land in a particular way, they have acquired a kind of right to that land to continue their usage. That right is called native title. Native title can be extinguished in various ways. An example of extinguishment is what happened in Timber Creek. Between 1980 and 1996, the Northern Territory government engaged in 53 acts, such as granting tenure to land, and constructing public works. These extinguishing acts occurred over 127 hectares, to which Aboriginal people up to that point had exercised their native title.Read more
As the NSW state election approaches on March 23, and the federal election approaches in May, abortion law reform is finally on the political agenda. Most significantly, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition Tanya Plibersek announced the ALP’s National Sexual and Reproductive Health Strategy. Part of this Strategy will include tying federal health funding of public hospitals to their provision of abortion services. The effect of this will be to place significant pressure on states like NSW, where abortion is currently illegal, to provide abortion services in public hospitals. Labor has said it intends to “work closely with the states” to progress decriminalising abortion across Australia.
Queensland decriminalised abortion in October 2018. NSW is currently the only state or territory in Australia where abortion is a criminal offence. There are restrictions on when abortion is legal in other states and territories, including varying conditions on gaining the approval of doctors.Read more
On Wednesday 27 February, at about 4 pm, the Queensland State Parliament passed its Human Rights Bill into law, by a series of vote 49 to 43. There are now three individual human rights acts in Australia: one in Queensland, one in Victoria, and one in the Australian Capital Territory.
The three acts operate in broadly similar ways. They require courts and tribunals to interpret legislation in a way consistent with human rights, except where doing so would be inconsistent with the purpose or plain meaning of the legislation. If the Supreme Court is asked to find whether a particular law or statute is incompatible with human rights, declaring that there is an incompatibility does not result in the law being struck down. The declaration simply means that the relevant Minister or Attorney General has to table a written response to this declaration in parliament. These declarations have been further defanged in Queensland and Victoria, whose human rights acts provide for their parliaments issuing override declarations. Where these are made, the human rights acts have no bearing in relation to the relevant provisions or legislation.Read more
NSWCCL is one of many organisations who have today called on the NSW Parliament to reform the current "archaic, cruel, and degrading" abortion laws" in this state which "deny a woman the right to make decisions about her healthcare". The 33 signatory organisations made this call in a strongly worded public letter to MPs asserting the imperative for reform:
NSW now has the most archaic abortion laws in the nation - laws created in 1900 that treat pregnant people like second class citizens when it comes to accessing abortion care. The attitudes of 1900 should not deny a woman the healthcare she needs in 2018. It’s time that NSW’s abortion laws are made fit for today’s world, and that abortion is finally recognised as a health matter – as it is in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, Northern Territory and now Queensland.
We call on you to support decriminalising abortion in NSW, and to vote for new health laws that promote the autonomy, dignity and well-being of people who need to end a pregnancy by providing for safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care.
NSWCCL is an active member of a 'round table' of concerned organisations determined to achieve the long overdue removal of abortion from the criminal law and its management as a health matter. Abortion law reform has been high on the NSWCCL agenda for over 50 years - but like others we are of the view that the time has come for for all concerned organisation and individuals to demand action from our members of Parliament.
It is simply not acceptable to the women of NSW that our Parliament should continue to resist reform on this hugely important women's issue when the Parliaments of Victoria, Tasmania, ACT, Northern Terrority and, most recently, Queensland have been responsive to the rights of women and have decriminalized abortion.
There are some positive signs that seem to indicate some possibility that the NSW Parliament might be a little more open on this issue than previous indications.
The passage of the legislation setting up safe access zones at reproductive healthcare clinics in NSW earlier this year was a very positive manifestation of respect of patient dignity and privacy. The SMH reports today that Premier Berejiklian indicated she remained 'open-minded' on the issue and favoured a conscience vote in Parliament.
The new leader of the Opposition Michael Daley has sadly not yet reached the conclusion of his predecessor who in October indicated Labor would, if elected, decriminalize abortion. However Daly is clear he has not yet determined his position and will refer the issue to the NSW Law Reform Commission. This was the path the Queensland labor Government took which led to a successful reform outcome.
NSWCCL will give high priority to the campaign for reform of abortion laws in the context of the emending NSW election and in that context we would support the referral of the matter to the NSW Law Reform Commission.
NSW Council for Civil Liberties celebrates the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Due to the historic vote on 10 December 1948, today is known as Human Rights Day.
President of the New South Wales Council for Civil Liberties (CCL) Pauline Wright said, “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was a seminal declaration by countries across the world, that human rights are fundamental, intrinsic, and inalienable. Nations across the globe saw the horrors of World War II, and determined to establish a new world order, based on respect for political, civil, social, economic and cultural rights.”Read more
NSW Council for Civil Liberties is delighted to announce the election of a new
President, Pauline Wright, only the second woman to lead the organisation since its
inception in 1963. Carolyn Simpson QC, former Justice of the Supreme Court of
NSW, was the first female President, from 1975 to 1979.
Wright said “The civil liberties movement has been my life’s work. I’ve been
engaged with NSW Council for Civil Liberties for most of my adult life and I’m
deeply honoured to have been elected President. It has informed almost every aspect
of my professional career. NSWCCL is an increasingly important organisation and its
work is dear to my heart.”
On 16 July 2018 the Queensland Labor Government released the Queensland Law Reform Commission (QLRC) Review of Termination of Pregnancy Laws report. The report made a series of recommendations, including the draft of a bill that would decriminalise abortion in Queensland.
It is currently unlawful to terminate pregnancy in Queensland, due to sections 224 to 226 of the Criminal Code. As noted in the QLRC report, a termination may be “lawful” if it is “necessary to preserve the woman from a serious danger to her life or her physical or mental health (not being merely the normal dangers of pregnancy and childbirth) which the continuance of the pregnancy would entail, and in the circumstances not out of proportion to the danger to be averted.” There are currently between 10 000 and 14 000 abortions in Queensland every year. They are mostly performed in the first trimester, with later terminations “comparatively rare”.
Under the current provisions, a person who causes an abortion can be imprisoned for 14 years. A woman who takes something to cause herself a miscarriage can be imprisoned for seven years. Supplying drugs or other instruments used for the purpose of abortion can result in imprisonment for three years.Read more