‘Another man telling women what to do’
THE first pro-life campaigner convicted under Queensland's new abortion laws has been schooled by a magistrate for protesting inside a termination clinic safe access zone.
The magistrate told him he was "another man telling women what to do with their bodies".
Serial protester and devout Catholic Worker Movement member James Dowling, 63, was charged with the new offence after being arrested outside a Greenslopes abortion clinic on Boxing Day with a sign that read: "Human rights for all human beings".
A self-represented Dowling fronted Brisbane Magistrates Court on Wednesday charged with protesting inside an abortion safe-access zone but refused to enter a plea, claiming he did nothing wrong.
"I was exercising my right to free speech," he told the court.
But Magistrate Andrew Moloney entered a not guilty plea on the defendant's behalf to the charge of engaging in prohibited conduct in a safe access zone outside a termination clinic.
Police prosecutor Duncan Erskine said police were called to a man protesting against abortion outside Brisbane Day Hospital on December 26, 2018, after reports of protesters with signs saying: "Support mothers not abortion".
The Palaszczuk Government's newly-minted abortion laws make it illegal to protest with signs or make noise in a "safe zone" within 150m of an abortion clinic, if it could "reasonably deter" a woman from seeking an abortion.
Dowling was 10m away from the clinic's entrance on Logan Road, the court heard.
The 63-year-old took the stand during yesterday's hearing, saying he had been protesting outside the clinic each December since 1982 and despite being subject to abuse for a number of years he had "never retaliated".
"I just don't believe the law is a just law that wants to throw me in jail for exercising my right of free speech, trying to save lives and help women," he said.
In sentencing, Magistrate Moloney told Dowling: "At the end of the day it is another man telling a woman what to do with her body".
He added the legislation did not stop Dowling's right to free speech but required him to do so outside the abortion clinic's safe access zones.
While he conceded it was a "peaceful protest" he said Dowling could have deterred a woman considering abortion.
"Even though the premises were closed, a person in distress or an emergency situation could seek to attend and positioning some 10m from the entrance would be reasonably likely to deter a person," he said.
Dowling was fined $300 and had a conviction recorded.
Dowling's wife, Anne Rampa, 58, who has also been charged with the same offence, will have her matter heard in the Brisbane Magistrates Court on Tuesday.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad, who was a prime mover in Queensland's decriminalisation of abortion, told The Courier-Mail: "Every woman should be able to make choices about their own reproductive health care without fear of being harassed, bullied or vilified.
"The new laws we introduced last year will mean that woman are protected, and it's good to see that they are already holding people accountable."