Abortion safe areas protect staff & service users from bullying & harassment
28 May 2021
Public Service Association members today spoke to the Health Select Committee in support of the Contraception, Sterilisation and Abortion (Safe Areas) Amendment Bill.
The union strongly endorses the proposal to set ‘safe areas’ around abortion service providers. However, the process currently proposed for designating these areas is overly cumbersome and should be simplified.
A written PSA submission was also provided, which argues people providing, assisting, or accessing abortion services should not be subject to intimidation, harassment or behaviour intended to cause distress.
“Our union movement strongly believes everyone should be safe at work, and that New Zealand’s public, community and health services should be accessible to everyone who needs them. If people providing or accessing abortion services must run the gauntlet to enter or leave a clinic, that’s unacceptable,” says PSA National Secretary Kerry Davies.
“We also strongly support freedom of speech and the right to protest. Union members, including health workers, organise protest actions themselves when the situation calls for it. There’s a big difference between legitimate protest, however, and the organised intimidation of vulnerable people trying to access or provide a legal health service.”
The PSA represents 21,000 workers in New Zealand’s DHBs and 9,000 workers in the health-related Community Public Services sector.
The union consulted these workers when preparing its submission. Some union members also shared their stories of what it was like accessing abortion services.
For many, an already painful experience was made significantly worse by harassment from aggressive anti-abortion demonstrators.
“When the legislation is passed, it should enable safe areas to be established easily at all facilities which provide abortion services,” says Ms Davies.
“These safe areas should include arrangements for health workers and those using the service to use alternate entrances and exits, minimising the risk of intimidation and harassment.”
PSA member who used abortion services:
“When I arrived the entrance to the clinic was surrounded by at least twenty people, protesting. As I was with friends the protestors could not decide which one of us or if indeed all of us were there for a procedure.”
“We were approached, we had pamphlets pushed into our faces. The protestors told us we were murderers… A massive scene was created and people walking by stopped. We had to push our way into the clinic which was not obvious, rather the opposite. More like a dental office, no signs.”
“Emotionally this experience made one of the worst days of my life a hell of a lot harder than it needed to be.”
PSA health worker:
“Anonymity & privacy will be strengthened with the provision of Safe Areas for patients and staff at TOP (Termination of Pregnancy) services. New Zealanders of all shades & backgrounds should be protected and granted dignified care.”
“I know staff who have worked there who did not find it easy. Emotionally it became too taxing for them to face another working day of wondering who would be there to ‘greet’ them with unwanted words of advice or name calling.”
“They would have to protect themselves and not announce where they worked, in some cases conceal themselves with an item of clothing just so the protestors would not know who they were. How is this harassment different from bullying at work that employers everywhere are required to eliminate?”
“We believe it is paramount & critical for the health & wellbeing of women & all users and staff of TOP Services to positively have Safe Areas. As a society we have a duty of care to eliminate bullying and harassment, that’s why we need this legislation.”