NSW bill to jail abortion protesters

Lucy Hughes Jones

NSW women seeking abortions could soon be protected from harassment outside clinics if a safe access zone bill passes state parliament.

And protesters caught intimidating patients could face jail time if the private members bill co-sponsored by Labor's Penny Sharpe and Nationals MP Trevor Khan gets over the line.

The draft legislation, set to be introduced to the upper house on Thursday, guarantees 150-metre exclusion zones where it will also be an offence to film people without their consent.

"Nowhere else in our community do we allow women to be yelled at, pushed and shoved in public places," Ms Sharpe said.

"We're very happy for people to protest about abortion - we know people have very strong views about it - but harassing women as they're seeking treatment is just not on."

Ms Sharpe is "cautiously optimistic" the bill will have enough support to proceed to the lower chamber for debate before parliament breaks for winter recess in late June.

The Labor caucus has already endorsed it but the Liberal and National Party's final position is yet to be considered.

A bid to decriminalise pregnancy terminations failed last May when a bill aimed at reforming the decades-old legislation was comprehensively voted down.

Ms Sharpe has revamped her previous safe zones bill with three major differences that she believes the coalition will have more of an appetite for.

The proposed changes draw a distinction between maximum penalties for first-time offenders, who can be hit with a $5000 fine or a six-month jail term, and second-time offenders, who can attract an $11,000 fine or 12 months behind bars.

Churches will also be exempt from the laws, which would amend the Public Health Act rather than the Summary Offences Act.

Tasmania, Victoria, the ACT and Northern Territory already have safe access zones around abortion providers.

Paul Nattrass, who manages a Sydney reproductive healthcare service, called it a big step forward for women's dignity and privacy.

"No one should have to suffer the forceful, intrusive questioning of their medical treatment from a stranger in the street under any circumstances," he said.

Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Adrianne Walters called for abortion to be removed from the Crimes Act, calling the current law "hopelessly out of step with modern clinical practice, community standards and women's basic rights".