Alongside feminist legal studies group members, Drs Ronli Sifris, and Dr Caroline Henckels I have authored an amicus curiae (friend of the court) submission on behalf of the Castan Centre for Human Rights to the High Court in the important case of Clubb v Edwards and Attorney-General for Victoria. Our submission was prepared with pro bono assistance from the wonderful Kate Eastman SC and K&L Gates.
The Clubb case involves a constitutional challenge to the Victorian safe access zone laws around abortion clinics. Safe access zones are sometimes called bubble zones because they create a bubble around an abortion clinic in which certain conduct is prohibited. The legislation is a response to picketing of clinics by anti-abortion protesters for more than two decades.
To find out more about abortion clinic safe access zone laws and where they exist in Australia, you can read my explainer.
The Victorian legislation has been challenged in the High Court by Kathleen Clubb, an active member of the anti-abortion group known as Helpers of God’s Precious Infants. Last October, Clubb was convicted of communicating about abortions in a manner reasonably likely to cause anxiety or distress within the safe access zone around Melbourne’s Fertility Control Clinic. In her challenge to the legislation, Clubb has submitted that Victoria’s safe access zone law infringes on freedom of political communication implied in the Commonwealth Constitution.
The case is being heard by the High Court on 9 -11 October 2018.
The Castan Centre submission (as it states) “brings an empirical perspective on the practical impact of Part 9A of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act on Victorian women” and draws upon qualitative empirical research we have undertaken into the operation of the Public Health Act. Together with Dr Ronli Sifris, I have been conducting semi-structured interviews with Victorian health professionals working in medical clinics which provide abortion services in Victoria, in order to evaluate the nature and effect of anti-abortion protests around clinics and the impact of safe access zones. Our research is described in a research paper titled ‘Anti -Abortion Protest and The Effectiveness of Victoria’s Safe Access Zones: An Analysis’ to be published in 2019 by Monash University Law Review and a paper titled ‘Expanding the Feminization Dimension of International Law: targeted anti-abortion protest as violence against women’ to be published in the Cambridge International Law Journal later this year.
Our research demonstrates that protests outside abortion clinics have negatively impacted on women’s safety and privacy, as well as their ability to access lawful medical procedures free from intimidation and harassment. The research shows that women’s safety, privacy, health and wellbeing have in fact been impacted negatively by the protests. As a proud feminist, I am hopeful that our research will highlight the importance of promoting women’s health, dignity, privacy and well-being.
Please read our submission here. We’ll let you know how the case goes.