Abortion clinic calls for protester exclusion zones

Julia Medew

October 18, 2010

THE East Melbourne abortion clinic where a security guard was murdered nine years ago has called for the Victorian government to create exclusion zones around all such clinics to prevent protesters from harassing patients and staff.

A psychologist who works at the Fertility Control Clinic in East Melbourne, Dr Susie Allanson, said that since abortion was decriminalised in 2008, protesters from The Helpers of God’s Precious Infants had continued to hound people as they entered and left her workplace on Wellington Parade.

She said clinic staff had called the police and Melbourne City Council almost daily to respond to complaints about the protesters, who thrust pamphlets at patients while telling them not to kill their babies.

”Sometimes patients are in tears when they come in and we’ve had a partner [of a patient] assault one of them once because he felt so threatened,” Dr Allanson said.

The protesters also seemed to attract mentally ill people, Dr Allanson said, increasing fear within the clinic.

”They attract all sorts of unbalanced individuals. The gunman who killed our security guard in 2001 stood with them on a couple of occasions and their rhetoric about us being murderers just gives rationale for them to take the next step,” she said.

A spokesman for the Helpers of God’s Precious Infants, Ben O’Brien, said his group had not harassed anyone, and that many women had benefited from the group’s presence outside the clinic for many years.

He said he did not know of any protesters who would cause people to feel unsafe and that the call for an exclusion zone was unwarranted.

”This is a threat to people’s freedom,” he said.

Three years ago, the Melbourne City Council agreed to use its bylaws to fine protesters who harassed women outside the clinic, but Dr Allanson said it had not deterred the protesters.

She said it was time to create an exclusion zone around the clinic and others across the state to balance people’s rights.

The call follows a recommendation from the Victorian Law Reform Commission in 2008 for the state government to consider a legislative response to the issue.

Dr Allanson said various government departments and ministers had also indicated to her before abortion was decriminalised that the issue of protesters would have to wait until the law had changed.

”All we want is for the protesters to be moved to the other side of Wellington Parade so they can still protest but they’re not in women’s faces … The authorities are totally privileging these people’s right to protest over women’s privacy and their right to feel safe and to not be harassed,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the government would not comment on whether it was considering exclusion zones for abortion clinics and said protesters in East Melbourne were a local government issue.

”These are very contentious issues but every Victorian, regardless of their viewpoint, should be treated with dignity and respect,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Melbourne City Council said it had no power to move people conducting peaceful protests.

She said council officers had attended the Fertility Control Clinic regularly for several years and had issued ”numerous warnings” to the protesters, asking them to voluntarily comply with the law.

Two infringements had also been issued outside the clinic in recent weeks, she said, for the persistent use of an unauthorised sign.


from  http://www.alternet.org

For many women, getting access to abortion has become extraordinarily difficult. Conservatives’ plan is to make it impossible.

They say it’s too easy.

According to 48 percent of American voters, it’s “too easy” to have an abortion in this country.

Too easy?

Every year, legislatures introduce hundreds of bills to restrict abortion. Every year, dozens pass. This year has been no exception. The Center for Reproductive Rights published a report on the nearly 50 new laws that have already been passed this year: biased counseling, forced ultrasounds, bans on insurance coverage, parental notification… And it’s only September.

Louisiana was among the many states to pass new laws restricting abortion. One of them gave the state’s Department of Health the authority to shut down any abortion clinic — permanently — for health and safety concerns.

And it had its first success: it shut down the Hope Medical Group for Women in Shreveport. According to the Department of Health:

The Legislature gave us this authority because they recognized we must have the ability to stop unsafe practices that place these already vulnerable women in danger.

But closing abortion clinics doesn’t protect vulnerable women. And under Louisiana’s new law, once a clinic is shut down by the health department, its owners and managers are prohibited from ever operating another clinic, ensuring one less provider for the women of Louisiana and making it that much harder for them to obtain an abortion in that state.

The State of Louisiana just accomplished what the terrorists who attempted to bomb that same clinic in 2005 failed to do, shutting down the clinic.

Too easy?

Consider the challenges a woman in Missouri now faces. There is now only one provider in the entire state, so unless she’s lucky enough to live in St. Louis, she will have to travel, perhaps 100 miles or more, to even reach an abortion provider. That is the case for one in five patients at the clinic in St. Louis.

If she’s a minor, she’ll first need her parents’ consent. Maybe she knows her parents will say no. Maybe she’s afraid she’ll be punished if they find out she wants to have an abortion. Maybe she’ll be kicked out or beaten. Maybe she’ll even be killed. These things happen.

She can go to the court and hope that a judge gives her permission. But judges don’t always say yes. Maybe she’ll get one of those judges who thinks that at 17, she’s too young and immature to make the decision about whether to terminate her pregnancy. Not too young to have a baby, of course, but too young to have an abortion.

That’s the end of the line for her.

If she gets the consent of her parents, or the court, she has to travel to St. Louis. Maybe she has a car. Maybe she takes a bus. Maybe a friend gives her a ride. If she’s lucky.

At the clinic, she is told about the physical and psychological risks of abortion. It doesn’t matter that there really aren’t any. The procedure is perfectly safe. But that’s not the point. The point is to scare her, to make her think she is putting her life in danger.

She is given a brochure that tells her about “the probable anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child.” She will have to look at color photographs and descriptions of a fetus, from conception to full term.

The brochure also says: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”

That’s not a medical opinion; that’s a religious belief. The state is not supposed to be in the business of promoting religious beliefs, but that’s the law in Missouri now.

If she is 22 weeks into her pregnancy, she will also be told that the fetus “may” feel pain, and she will have to decide whether she would like anesthesia for the fetus. It doesn’t matter that it’s not true. What matters is that she believes she is causing pain to her unborn child.

She will have to decide whether to have an ultrasound so she can see a picture of her fetus, and whether to listen to its heartbeat. It doesn’t matter that there probably is no heartbeat yet. What matters is that she thinks about her fetus — her baby — and what it looks and sounds like, and the pain she will inflict on it.

And then she will have to wait at least 24 hours. A whole day. She has to go think about her decision. The government has a vested interest in making sure she really thinks about what she’s doing, about the ultrasound and the heartbeat and the risks and the pain. Sure, it’s legal for her to have an abortion, but first, she has to feel bad about it. Shamed.

And where does she go for 24 hours? Does this teenage girl have the means to stay in a hotel? Does she go all the way back home and hope to return the next day? Maybe she just goes home and never comes back.

Too easy?

Those are the obstacles women face in Missouri. And Oklahoma. And Louisiana. And Nebraska.

In Nebraska, the legislature passed, and the governor signed, a “patient screening” bill. The bill requires doctors to read every single peer-reviewed study on the risks of abortion and to advise their patients of all of the reported risks — even the debunked ones.

Planned Parenthood immediately sued and obtained an injunction to prevent the law from going into effect. The state’s attorney general concluded that it would be too costly for the state to fight the injunction. So women and their doctors are safe from that law. For now. But many legislatures find their laws overturned; it doesn’t stop them from re-introducing the laws, again and again and again.

And the women of Nebraska are still subject to many of the same restrictions as the women of Missouri — parental notification, ultrasounds, waiting periods, false information. And because 97 percent of Nebraska’s counties have no abortion providers, traveling to an abortion provider in another part of the state imposes a significant burden.

Too easy?

The State of Oklahoma made it legal for doctors to withhold information from their patients if they think that information may influence a woman’s decision to have an abortion. So if her ultrasound shows the fetus has birth defects, the doctor may choose not to disclose that information to the patient if she might be inclined to have an abortion. And she has no right to sue the doctor for failing to provide her with that information. This, in the same state that, at the same time, passed a law requiring women to have a vaginal ultrasound before having an abortion — all the in the name of “informed consent.”

Too easy?

How hard should it be? How many more lies should women be told? How much longer should they have to wait? How much further should they have to travel? How much more should they have to pay? How much harder does it need to be?

Already, we have fewer and fewer doctors who even know how to perform abortions. Only 13 percent of counties even have one abortion provider. The cost of hundreds of dollars is burdensome to low-income women; for minors, who already face the greatest obstacles, it can be prohibitive.

All of that — and abortion is “too easy”? As if those obstacles weren’t enough, there is also the state-mandated shame.

We condemn other societies that publicly shame women. Sometimes we invade them, and we claim to liberate their women. We brag about it. It’s what gives us the right to say we are better. It’s how we justify acts of war. We’re making their lives better. Easier.

But in this country, conservatives engage in its own form of public shaming and punishment. They stand outside health clinics and terrorize women. Sometimes they set clinics on fire. Sometimes they set bombs. Sometimes they assassinate doctors. And those who hold elected office are constantly inventing new, burdensome restrictions and new methods of emotional manipulation and shame.

Look at this picture of your baby. Listen to its heartbeat. Look at this picture of a fetus at eight months. Your baby would look like that. Do you really want to end its life? Do you really want to cause it pain? Would you at least like to ease its pain a little before you kill it? Go home and think about it first. Think about your baby. Here, take this picture with you.

Too easy?

If it were any easier, American women wouldn’t be able to have abortions at all. But then, that’s the point, isn’t it?

By Kaili Joy Gray