Controversy over abortion clinic safe zones heats up as Bill heads towards second reading

A Bill that would create safe spaces around abortion clinics is causing controversy, with some saying it's crucial and others condemning it as unnecessary.

The Contraception Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill would make it illegal for pro-life protesters to set up outside clinics, as they often do now. 

The Bill would create a 150-metre perimeter outside healthcare services, in which no one could intimidate, interfere with or obstruct a person entering the clinic. 

Anyone found to have engaged in these behaviours would be liable for conviction or a fine of up to $1000. 

Abortion Rights Aotearoa president Terry Bellamak says the Bill is "huge".

"Right now, people are not protected from harassment outside abortion clinics," she told Newshub.

"People shouldn't have to stand up to bullies in order to get healthcare. There's no reason why people using reproductive health care should have to do that."

She says almost everyone she has spoken to who has had an abortion spoke of the dread they felt heading into the service, and the fear of being heckled by pro-life protesters who often set up outside clinics.

"Nobody knows the stories of the people walking in - not that anyone should judge anyone for healthcare decisions but it's especially harmful and hurtful for people losing a wanted pregnancy to have people outside the clinic calling them a murderer."

Bellamak added now that abortion has been removed from the Crimes Act there is no validity to protesters. 

"Until last year, abortion was illegal. It was only lawful under certain conditions and that gave a false veneer of validity to these protests. But trying to infringe on someone's healthcare decisions - There's nothing political about that."

However, the president of Voice for Life says the Bill will infringe on the organisation's right to freedom of expression and freedom of public assembly.

"It's unnecessary. The zones around abortion clinics are already safe," says Kate Cormack.

"The people who gather and offer support outside clinics are law-abiding citizens. These are peaceful, compassionate and quiet vigils."

She says the Bill will set a "dangerous" precedent by restricting the "fundamental rights" of pro-life protesters. 

"As a woman, my right to protest, my right to engage in the public sphere - for me to possibly be fined and arrested for doing what I've done for many years - for that to be on the line is really frightening."

Submissions on the Bill close on Wednesday before it is presented for its second reading in Parliament.