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Pro-lifers lose High Court free speech appeal against abortion clinic ‘safe access zones’

Standing for life: Pro-life advocates protesting outside Parliament House during the 2018 abortion debates. Photo: Alan Edgecomb

A BRISBANE pro-life campaigner has not discounted further civil disobedience, after the High Court dismissed his appeal to laws that prescribe 150-metre “safe access zones” around abortion clinics.

“I don’t think it is right to simply roll over and accept this,” Graham Preston said of the laws that are now in force in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania.

Mr Preston was one of two complainants who appealed to the High Court that they had been denied their right to freedom of political communication.

On April 10, the High Court dismissed the appeal, saying state laws served a legitimate purpose.

Mr Preston, who faced three charges for his protests in Hobart in 2014 and 2015, was found to have been within a no protest zone, carrying placards reading “Every child has the right to life” and “Everyone has the right to life”. 

He also carried an enlarged photo of an eight-week preborn baby.

Mr Preston was convicted and fined $3000.

A second person, Kathleen Clubb, had previously been convicted after trying to hand a pamphlet to a couple outside an east Melbourne clinic in 2016.

The pair both argued the laws preventing them from protesting outside clinics in Tasmania and Victoria were unconstitutional.

The High Court ruled the laws about no protest zones served a purpose – to protect women attending a clinic and seeking a termination.

“The burden on political communication imposed by the protest prohibition is slight,” Chief Justice Kieffel said.

Three of the seven judges hearing the case said the purpose of the law outweighed any freedom of speech concerns.

“It’s very disappointing… but we are not despairing,” Mr Preston said about the ruling.

“From a freedom of speech point of view it is a very bad precedent. 

“And from a pro-life position it is even worse, because not being able to be there to offer help to people is tragic.

“On the day I was arrested in Tasmania I was holding a sign that said ‘everyone has a right to life’.

“Lives are going to be lost because of this decision.”

Mr Preston said he respected the law and the state, however, “we can make an idol of that and as Peter and John said, ultimately we must obey God rather than men”.

“And that’s the tricky line a Christian has to walk, as to when the state crosses that line and we must be prepared to disobey,” he said.

“That is always the case with civil disobedience.”

Mr Preston is due to appear in the Brisbane Magistrates Court next month after a protest against abortion in public, but not inside an abortion clinic safe zone.

Life advocate: Graham Preston.

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