Criminalised Free Speech Zones are Now a Reality in NZ

Last Thursday, after almost 16 months of waiting, the news broke that the first round of so-called ‘safe areas’ have been approved by the Labour Cabinet.

In a nutshell: a ‘safe area’ is a 300m bubble around an abortion facility, in which it is illegal to express any pro-life views or speech (even offering help to women) on the issue of abortion - with even silent acts of expression banned inside these zones.

The zones extend 150m in every direction from the boundary of the property where the abortion facility is located, meaning that freedom of expression becomes a criminal act in public spaces, and even on private property owned by others, if it falls within that 300m bubble.

It’s hard to understate the seriousness of what this latest authoritarianism represents - in effect, there are now places in New Zealand where even a civil conversation about the issue of abortion, or charitably offering a woman caring alternatives to abortion could result in a criminal charge.

The legislation allowing these criminalised free speech zones was passed by the New Zealand Parliament in March last year despite the official report to Parliament from the NZ Law Commission stating that such zones were not necessary (so much for ‘listen to the experts’).

Despite claiming to be a free speech champion, this clear violation of the right to legitimate freedom of expression was also supported by David Seymour, who has never hidden his contempt for people who hold pro-life views.

There are obviously certain behaviours which it is right and just for the Government to prohibit anywhere in New Zealand - such as acts of violence, threats, etc - but this goes well beyond the things that were already banned under existing laws.

It also includes criminalising “any of the following” things done “in a manner that could be easily seen or heard by another person who may be accessing, providing, or assisting with providing, abortion services”:

  • Advising or persuading someone to NOT have an abortion

  • Providing someone with information about abortion (if you are not the abortionist, or working for the abortion facility)

  • Engage in any form of protest about “matters relating to the provision of abortion”

That opening clause about this law applying not just to pregnant mothers seeking abortions, but also to any person “accessing, providing, or assisting with providing” abortions is important.

What it means is that a pregnant woman might not take any offence, possibly even welcoming a caring offer of abortion alternatives from a friendly stranger, but you are still likely to be charged if the abortion staff, or someone else who is there to procure an abortion lays a complaint against you.

The bell finally tolls for peaceful pro-life free speech…

Even though the law was passed over a year ago, the bureaucratic process of applying for and approving specific ‘safe areas’ has taken many months to play out, with a lot of uncertainty about when and where criminalised free speech zones would be enacted.

That all changed last Thursday with the official announcement that the following ‘safe area’ zones have been established by the Labour Cabinet:

  • Auckland Medical Aid Centre (AMAC)

  • Epsom Day Unit, Greenlane Clinical Centre (Auckland)

  • Te Mahoe Unit, Wellington Regional Hospital

  • Te Nīkau, Grey Hospital and Health Centre, Greymouth Hospital

  • Gynaecology Procedure Unit (GPU) and Christchurch Women's Hospital, Christchurch Hospital

  • Dunedin Hospital.

In practical terms, this means that there is now 424,116 square metres of land in New Zealand where it is a criminal act to offer caring alternatives to abortion or to engage in peaceful pro-life speech.

The criminalisation of free speech doesn’t just include these six locations however, as there are a second group of other locations already in the approval process, and then a third round of applications opening next Monday (7th August).

One of the absurd ironies in all of this was Monday’s news that, as a result of these anti-free speech zones, a pro-abortion protestor would now be stopping his decade-long campaign of harassing peaceful pro-lifers with an offensive sign in Dunedin.

It’s funny how his persistent harassment of peaceful pro-lifers was never mentioned when MPs were waxing lyrical about alleged acts of intimidation and offensive behaviour happening outside NZ abortion facilities.

What happens next?

It’s hard to say what will happen next, but based on the overseas experience it’s probably only a matter of time before we start seeing people arrested for peacefully offering help to women or expressing pro-life views in public spaces that Labour has designated as criminalised free speech zones.

This marks a sad moment in the history of New Zealand, but it also shows just how tyrannical the pro-abortion ideology has become, and how anemic their position really is - only a belief system which is to weak to withstand logical scrutiny needs to resort to such extreme tactics to silence opposition voices.

Clearly the pro-life movement was having a positive impact, and, for whatever reason, the people with all the power didn’t like it.

Whatever happens next, one thing is for certain, authoritarian laws won’t stop the caring voice of the pro-life movement from continuing to speak out against the grave injustice of abortion, nor will it prevent us from working for more humane solutions than the violence of abortion.

Kate Cormack