The region’s three NSW Nationals’ MPs all voted in favour of a bill that will see protesters face jail time if they harass people outside abortion facilities.
The bill was put forward by Tamworth-based Nationals MLC Trevor Khan and will prevent so called “sidewalk counsellors” from handing out pro-life material within a 150-metre zone of an abortion clinic.
Earlier this week, Fairfax Media revealed New England MP Barnaby Joyce had been contacting his NSW counterparts and lobbying them to vote against the bill, citing freedom of speech issues.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson, Northern Tablelands MP Adam Marshall and Barwon MP Kevin Humphries all supported the bill.
Mr Marshall told the parliament he was “bemused” by the freedom of speech argument.
“Surely the rights of these counsellors do not and cannot trump the rights of women legally entering these clinics,” Mr Marshall said.
“I believe at my core that people who may be at their most fragile deserve the right to access the health services, professional guidance and advice that they seek and require, free from any interference.”
Mr Anderson said the bill was clearly “not about abortion, but about law and order”.
He also took aim at abortion clinic protesters who brand themselves as “street counsellors”.
“In my view a protester is a protester, not a self-titled street counsellor,” Mr Anderson told the parliament.
“A self-defined street counsellor in that context, wrapped around this bill, gives this issue a warm feeling and softens the whole parameter of protest.”