Hundreds of women have signed an online petition in support of exclusion zones that would deter protesters from holding regular prayer vigils outside a Civic abortion clinic.
Greens Minister Shane Rattenbury is moving to outlaw protests outside the clinic and has drafted legislation that would create buffer zones similar to those in place in Tasmania, where protests were banned within 150 metres of abortion clinics.
The laws would ban prevent anti-abortion protesters filming or handing out material to women outside the Moore Street building at certain times of the day, with hefty fines of up to $3750. A specific distance for the zones has not been outlined.
Anti-abortion protesters have held weekly prayer meetings outside the Moore Street building for the past 16 years, prompting politicians and women's groups to re-examine whether exclusion zones could be a viable option in the ACT.
The Women's Centre for Health Matters has strongly backed the introduction of exclusion zones in a submission to Mr Rattenbury published this week.
The organisation said more than 300 people had signed an online petition in support of the exclusion zones through its dedicated website rightofway.org.au, while another 100 had written to members of the Legislative Assembly.
The submission said while the group did not want to see freedom of expression limited unnecessarily, protests immediately outside a health facility were "insensitive and inappropriate" and targeted individual health service users and supporters.
"We believe that protests against the provision of particular health services – the right to which Women's Centre for Health Matters respects fundamentally – ought to be aimed clearly at legislators, policymakers, the general community, or the service itself, in ways that do not implicate individuals at the point of accessing the service."
The group recommended the 8am to 6pm exclusion zone time frame be removed, given the Civic clinic was open from 7.30am.
It also called for an exclusion zone of 50 metres, that could be bolstered in some areas if needed, to comply with human rights laws and to adequately protect women who accessed the clinic.
"We strongly encourage all legislators to take a long-term view when considering laws surrounding access to termination of pregnancy in the territory," the submission said.
"This view should take into consideration the future landscape in regards to both the potential increase in protest activity, as well as changes to the number and location of termination of pregnancy providers."
The submission featured stories and experiences of women who had abortions and their supporters, including one woman who said protesters' attempts to "shame vulnerable and stressed women" were "absolutely abhorrent and vile".
"A privacy zone is a necessity to protect all women from the judgment and harassment of these protesters."
ACT Right to Life Association president Bev Cains previously said she would "definitely not" consider moving the prayer vigils and all Australians had the right to express their opinion in public.
Mr Rattenbury has insisted the zones were not about denying people's right to protest and people could make their point outside the ACT Assembly, Parliament House or elsewhere.
Women's Minister Yvette Berry, who tried unsuccessfully to get the protesters to move their vigils to outside the ACT Assembly, says the community must ultimately decide whether there is a need for the exclusion zones.
One in three Australian women will have at least one abortion in their lifetime and 42 per cent of those will take place in the first trimester of pregnancy, according to Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT.