Anna von Marburg of Helpers of God’s Precious Infants says the new laws are disappointing. (ABC News, file photo)
Albury’s Englehardt Street may appear to be a quiet place, but over the years it has been the backdrop of a major local battle that’s helped shape the NSW new ‘safe access’ laws.
The New South Wales Government’s move last night to pass laws rolling out a 150 metre safe access zone that will move the protesters on is expected to be profoundly felt on this street.
It is the street that vulnerable women seeking help and guidance have to walk down every Thursday.
Along the street, federation-style homes have been converted into boutique businesses, lawns are well manicured, and neighbours regularly gather at the thriving community garden at the end of the road.
The street’s fertility control clinic, which also offers abortions, almost goes unnoticed.
The frontlines of the abortion fight
Protesters outside abortion clinics in New South Wales may be forced to abandon their posts, if State Parliament passes a new bill due to be introduced today.
But on Thursdays when a Melbourne-based practitioner travels to the border and opens the clinic doors, it becomes the most focal point.
Pro-life activists erect placards, hand out models of foetuses, pray, and hold vigils directly outside of the clinic, raising concerns that their presence intimidates and pressures vulnerable women.
Over the years, the unassuming street has become a Thursday political battleground between pro-life activists and those fighting to protect women’s privacy.
It is a battle that over time has enveloped the small regional community — from local councillors, MPs, medical practitioners, and families.
It has lead to arrests, rallies, and even defamation cases.
Albury MP says its time for protest to move on
An abortion protester stands outside a NSW clinic, while an abortion defender sits inside. (ABC News: Angela Lavoipierre, file photo)
The office of the Liberal Member for Albury, Greg Aplin, is situated just several streets from the Englehardt Street clinic.
He has listed Albury, along with Surry Hills, as the two main centres in the state where the battle between protesting and privacy has played out in public.
During Thursday’s marathon debate on safe access zones, Mr Aplin spoke in favour of an exclusion zone.
He said while the Albury council and police found no evidence over the years that the protesters were aggressively or unlawfully harassing women, he said it was time for the protesters to move on.
“The general community wants to take the issue off the street and I wholeheartedly agree,” he said.
“It needs its time for peace to be reinstated.
“There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with people who grieve for what they consider to be lives lost, and likewise, there’s not something fundamentally wrong with those who protest about that viewpoint.
“But this street is not the place to do it.
“The people of Albury need to show kindness, they need to show understanding to one another. But the time for confrontation is over.”
Mr Aplin has acknowledged that the vote did put him in a difficult situation, with Liberal members being allowed a conscience vote on the issue.
He said he still respects anti-abortion activists’ right to protest, but hopes the exclusion zone will allow both freedom of speech and privacy.
“They’ve honoured their commitment and they do say ‘follow your conscience, pray’, but take it elsewhere,” he said.
“You do have a choice. The women using that particular clinic do not have a choice about where they go.”
Protesters to find new tactics
Pro-life activists have outlined their disappointment in the NSW Government’s decision to move them away from the clinics.
Helpers of God’s Precious Infants member Anna von Marburg has regularly held a vigil outside of the Englehardt Street clinic, and described the new laws as “draconian”.
The group will now meet to discuss their options to continue carrying out their pro-life activities.
Ms von Marburg said their group had never harassed any Englehardt Street clients while they conducted their Thursday vigils on the clinic’s nature strip.
“We treated every mother with dignity and respect that is due to every mother and child,” she said.
She expects the new law will be challenged.
“This has always been about offering mothers help and their unborn babies from the horror of abortion, and it’s going to be crime to reach out to mothers and their unborn,” she said.
“We will continue to offer mothers help and be a voice for God’s precious infants.”