Amendments to the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill have further clarified the type of behaviours that would be prohibited outside abortion facilities that have an approved exclusion zone.
Prayer is not one of them.
Attempts have been made since the introduction of the Abortion Legislation Bill (enacted in March 2020), to exclude life-affirming activity outside abortion facilities. To date these attempts have been unsuccessful, although this run is likely to change in due course as the Bill is continued to be debated in the House. Currently, the Bill in its current form, is at the Second Reading. It is likely to come up for discussion again in February.
Pro-abortion advocates have argued that women and abortion staff members are harassed and threatened by pro-life witnesses outside abortion centres. Because of this harassment, they contend, those who enter an abortion facility must be protected from people whom they deem to be lacking in compassion.
The erroneous thinking is that it is the right of pregnant women, already mothers, to be given access to “services” that will allow them to abort their child in peace. This so-called right supersedes all other rights, especially the most fundamental of all – the right to life of the child of whom she is charged with protecting.
Family Life International NZ has always stated that our presence outside of abortion centres is conducted in a peaceful, prayerful manner, and with a deep respect for the dignity of all who pass by and who enter into the abortion facility, including workers. We are animated by love and true compassion, offering hope and practical help to pregnant mothers in their greatest hour of need.
It appears that, at least in part, the Health Committee has taken note of the right of individuals to be present to silently pray, even within a so-called “safe area.”
Health Committee Report
Having received concerned feedback from the Attorney General, and more than 900 submissions (of which 635 were opposed) on the “Safe Area” Amendment Bill, the Health Committee presented Parliament with a report on 28 October, 2021.
The Report contains a number of amendments which address the breaches of the NZ Bill of Rights Act, that were of concern to the Attorney General, the Hon. David Parker. He had been particularly concerned that the proposed legislation was so broad that it had the protentional of “having an unjustified chilling effect on freedom of expression with a safe area.”
One such concern was the ability of family members to engage in conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of abortion within a “safe area.” This has been addressed by the amendments proposed by the Committee.
Further, the Attorney General had noted that the legislation as it was first presented would be “likely to lead to a broader range of communicative activity being criminalised, such as distant silent protest.”
Again, the Committee took the Attorney General’s advice and made specific changes to the Bill defining more clearly the behaviours that would be prohibited in a “safe area.” It is very clear in their report that the Bill does not stop individuals from praying within the confines of this space.
“Some of us expressed concern at the possibility that individuals silently praying without any visual aids or placards could be included in the definition of prohibited behaviour, even in circumstances where their prayer was for matters unrelated to abortion, such as the illness or death of a loved one within a hospital. We were advised that silent prayer of this nature would not meet the definition of a protest.”
What are the key points to know about the Safe Area Bill?
- Prohibited behaviour within a so-called “safe area” is defined as:
- Obstructing a person approaching, entering, or leaving buildings where abortion is provided.
- Visually recording “in a manner that is likely to cause emotional distress to a person accessing, providing, or assisting with providing, abortion services.”
- Advising or persuading a person from entering an abortion facility whether they are accessing abortion or are an abortion worker, or assisting in some way, nor inform a person about abortion related matters. This does not extend to conversations held between family members, or abortion workers, but it does exclude the possibility of side-walk advocacy/counselling.
- Protesting the provision of abortion.
- A conviction for carrying out “prohibited behaviour” in a “safe area” carries a fine of up to $1,000.
- A police officer can ask a person to stop carrying out “prohibited behaviour,” and if they do not comply, can arrest the person and take them into custody without a warrant.
- “Safe Areas” do not automatically exist around abortion facilities, an abortion provider must apply for one to be implemented.
- The exclusion zone boundary is taken from any part of the property perimeter and can be no more than 150m.
- Each “safe area” must be reviewed to determine if it is still “desirable” to have in place, no later than 5 years after it was implemented.
What activities can occur within a defined “safe area” or nearby?
The Health Select Committee Report makes specific mention of certain behaviours that are not covered by the prohibited behaviours within a defined “safe area.” These are:
- “Distant” silent prayer without signs and communication (verbal and material) with people accessing, providing, or assisting in providing abortion.
Note: Further clarification is needed regarding the number of people praying, and whether it is possible to pray communally (using speech), or only silently as individuals.
- Pro-life activity on private property within a “safe area”.
Further, there are no laws prohibiting sidewalk advocacy/counselling outside the “safe area.” It is quite possible for pro-life advocates to be present just outside the exclusion zone. Here, signs offering support, and encouraging pregnant mothers to choose life for themselves and their preborn child may be held. Trained advocates are able to be present to assist anyone that is searching for alternatives to abortion, or who are wounded after their abortion experience. In addition, information about abortion and its harms can be handed to all those who pass by.
Pro-life experience in overseas jurisdictions where exclusion zones have been implemented suggests that lives are still saved when pro-life witness and sidewalk advocacy/counselling is moved further down the road from an abortion centre. God is not limited by the laws of the land.
The Second Reading of the Contraception, Sterilisation, and Abortion (Safe Area) Amendment Bill is likely to take place during February. While there are some welcome amendments that clarify which activities are acceptable within a so-called “Safe Area,” including silent, peaceful prayer, we should still work to have the Bill rejected by politicians.
“Safe areas” are intended to protect pregnant mothers and abortion workers from unwanted reminders of the unethical nature of what they participate in. However, that concern to “protect” does not extend to the most vulnerable of the human family within the confines of the “safe area,” – the preborn child who is in danger of death.
Nor does the legislation offer women real choice. Instead, it stifles a final opportunity for a mother seeking abortion to consider other options and experience the love and care of people who understand what true compassion is.
Opportunities for Action:
- Contact your local Member of Parliament and respectfully (and briefly) ask them to vote against the Bill at the Second Reading. Email list can be found here.
- Register your willingness to help organise and/or be a prayer volunteer for this year’s 40 Days for Life vigils in Auckland and Wellington (or elsewhere in the country in solidarity). Please email firstname.lastname@example.org (Auckland/rest of NZ) or email@example.com (Wellington)