By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE pro-life activist Graham Preston has described Tasmania’s anti-abortion protest laws as “just another indication of the creeping authoritarianism of the state”.
Mr Preston was charged in March under Tasmania’s Reproductive Health Act for protesting outside two Hobart abortion clinics.
In September, police prosecutors dropped the charges against Mr Preston saying, after reviewing the act, they did not feel they had a case.
Tasmania’s Reproductive Health Act was passed last year and is designed to stop protest within 150m of clinics.
Mr Preston said, despite media reports, his charge was failing to move on, and he had not been charged under the new act.
“It is hard to understand why I wasn’t charged under that act because it prohibits any protest against abortion within 150m of places where abortions are done, and I was only about 10m from the doorway,” he said.
“So clearly I was in breach of the act but for some reason the police lost their nerve.
“They didn’t charge me under that act and then didn’t proceed with any charge at all.
“Perhaps they had thought that because the penalties are so draconian – up to nearly $10,000 fine and/or a year in jail for protesting within 150m – no one would risk taking them on.”
Mr Preston said an Adelaide barrister had offered to represent him if his case had gone to a constitutional challenge.
He said he was planning to return to Tasmania early next year to challenge the law again.
“What the legislation’s apparent ‘weaknesses’ are I don’t know, but if they are concerned that the act could be found to be unconstitutional – suppressing freedom of speech and expression as it obviously does – then that would be good,” he said.
“To punish anyone so harshly just for peacefully expressing a contrary opinion on the streets is incredible.
“I do not believe we can just give in and allow it to become accepted.
“I believe it would only be a matter of time before other states followed Tasmania’s lead on this.”