Battles Over Abortion Laws

Buffer Zones Raise Objections

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Abortion has been in the spotlight recently, with new laws in Australia and a Supreme Court case to be heard early next year in the United States.

In late November the Australian state of Tasmania decriminalized abortion, but with some added measures. The new law bans any form of protest, even a silent one, within 150 meters of an abortion clinic, the Australian newspaper reported Nov. 22.

The penalty for breaking the law could include up to a year in jail and a $A9,750 fine.

The law also provides very liberal measures regarding the possibility of obtaining an abortion. Up to 16 weeks of pregnancy the only requirement is a woman’s consent. After that, with no upper limit, all that is needed is the approval of two doctors on medical or psychological grounds.

Moreover, if a doctor does not want to perform an abortion he is legally obliged to provide women with contact details of alternative services, including those which would perform an abortion.

“This bill changes the negative duty not to impede access to abortion, into the positive duty to facilitate abortion,” commented the newly installed archbishop of Hobart, Tasmania’s capital, Julian Porteous.

The new law, he commented in a statement dated November 22, “constitutes a serious breach of the fundamental human rights of medical practitioners,” by not respecting their right to conscientious objection regarding abortion.

“It forces doctors to violate their fundamental moral convictions,” Archbishop Porteous added.

He is not the only voice of protest against the new law. “This Act seeks to establish a precedent for the limiting of freedom of speech and assembly that is damaging to a free society,” stated Chelsea Pietsch, Executive Officer of Freedom 4 Faith, an ecumenical religious freedom organisation, in a Nov. 27 article published by Online Opinion.

Regarding the requirement for doctors to provide a list of alternative services if they do not wish to perform an abortion Pietsch acknowledged that women should be treated with compassion and respect, but also asked why is it that doctors can’t also be treated with the same respect for their views.

“In what other area would doctors need coercion? In what other area of life would even silent protest be curbed?” asked Angela Shanahan in a November 30 article published by the Australian.

Zoe’s law

Still, there was some good news regarding the unborn from Australia. In November the lower house of the New South Wales legislature passed by a massive 63 to 26 majority the Foetal Rights Bill, known as Zoe’s Law.

The bill must still be approved by the upper house, which will vote on it early next year.

The bill allows criminal charges to be brought against someone who hurt a foetus more than 20 weeks old or 400 grams.

Zoe’s Law is named after Brodie Donegan’s unborn child. Brodie was 36 weeks pregnant when she was hit by a car on Christmas day 2009. As a result of the accident she lost her baby.

The driver was goaled for his actions but was not able to be prosecuted for the death of the unborn child. The bill does not affect the state’s abortion laws.

“This law reflects what every mother who has lost a child prior to birth knows is true – that she has lost a real person, and not simply suffered an injury to her body,” commented Chris Meney, Director of the Life, Marriage and Family Centre in a statement published Nov. 21 by the Archdiocese of Sydney.

“To those that might wish to use the fig leaf of a legal fiction, Zoe was not an ‘injury’, she was a person,» he said   

Supreme Court

The issue of buffer zones is also a contentious matter in the United States. Almost a dozen briefs have been filed with the U.S. Supreme Court in support of a Massachusetts law prohibiting protests within 35 feet of abortion clinic entrances, exits and driveways, the Associated Press reported Nov. 25.

The 2007 law has been debated in lower courts, finally being upheld in a federal appeals court this January. The case is scheduled to be heard before the Supreme Court on January 15.

Colorado and Montana also have laws providing for buffer zones, as do some cities. The latest city to pass such a law was Portland, Maine.

The city council established a 39-foot buffer zone around the downtown Planned Parenthood clinic, the Portland Press Herald reported Nov. 19.

“Among the vulnerable for whom the Church wishes to care with particular love and concern are unborn children, the most defenceless and innocent among us,” commented Pope Francis in his recent Apostolic Exhortation, the Joy of the Gospel (No. 213).

“Nowadays efforts are made to deny them their human dignity and to do with them whatever one pleases, taking their lives and passing laws preventing anyone from standing in the way of this,” he commented.

The Supreme Court case will provide an opportunity to see whether the law will indeed be on the side of the innocent and defenceless.

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Fr. John Flynn

Australia Bachelor of Arts from the University of New South Wales. Licence in Philosophy from the Pontifical Gregorian University. Bachelor of Arts in Theology from the Queen of the Apostles.

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