Question: how do you get hoards of students in the midst of exams to brave torrential rain? Answer: a good cause…and cupcakes. September 3rd saw crowds flock to a rainy Union Court for the ‘Repro Rights Picnic’.

Run by the ANUSA and PARSA Women’s Departments collaboratively, the picnic was held to draw attention to a petition headed for the ACT Legislative Assembly expressing support for the creation of privacy zones around Abortion Services in the ACT. The Departments collected signatures as part of the wider campaign being run by the Women’s Centre for Health Matters (WCHM), and Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT).

While pro-life protesters have been holding demonstrations outside the ACT Health Centre in Moore Street for the past sixteen years, the ANU Women’s Department only began their public counter-protests earlier this year.

Although the pro-lifers congregating outside abortion centre invoke free speech, ANUSA Women’s Department Officer Loren Ovens affirmed that their argument ‘should be directed to the Legislative Assembly, not the people using the centres’.

ACT Women’s Minister Yvette Berry echoed a similar argument in an open letter to ACT Right to Life Association and Canberra Goulburn’s Catholic Archbishop Christopher Prowse. In her March 26 letter, Berry wrote;

“Politicians are the appropriate focus of any objection to the legality of termination services or concerns about the kinds of support women should have access to when making decisions about their reproductive health”.* Since then, the issue has been brought to further public attention following ACT Greens MLA Shane Rattenbury’s introduction of the Health (Patient Privacy) Amendment Bill 2015 in July, which proposed creating privacy zones around ACT abortion clinics.

Given that Tasmania legalised the creation of privacy zones in 2013, Ovens commented that “now is the time to be progressive”.. Bolstered with over five hundred signatures from ANU students and the wider ACT community, the petition was sent to the Legislative Assembly as part of the submission period on the Bill. The consultation period ended on September 11 and an announcement on potential legislative changes is expected in the coming months. If it is passed, the Bill will represent a significant win for supporters of women’s reproductive rights in the ACT.

*A copy of the letter can be found here.

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