'Right to life' campaigners deny prayers outside abortion clinic were in protest | ACT | Office Space Canberra \
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‘Right to life’ campaigners deny prayers outside abortion clinic were in protest

Updated November 07, 2017 19:09:44

The trial of three men who allegedly protested outside Canberra’s abortion clinic has heard they were praying, holding rosary beads and walking in an exclusion zone when arrested.

The three elderly men, Kerry Mellor, John Popplewell and Ken Clancy, were in the ACT Magistrates Court today as evidence was given about an alleged protest on February 3 this year.

Last year, the ACT Legislative Assembly passed legislation that banned protesting in an exclusion zone around the abortion clinic in the city.

The ACT Government hoped the exclusion zone would stop protestors gathering at the clinic and causing distress to women entering the building.

But the court heard the trio — all in their 70s — along with several other regular protesters, simply changed their tactics to get around the legislation.

At first they moved across the road to outside a pub, and continued to display graphic anti-abortion material.

The court heard when the exclusion zone was widened the men simply walked around the building, carrying rosary beads and praying.

The men were charged by police for being in a protected area and engaging in prohibited behaviour under the territory’s health laws.

They were each issued with a $750 fine, and when they refused to pay, the matter moved to the ACT Magistrates Court.

Today the Magistrates Court heard from a security guard the same men had protested outside the clinic for many years. On occasions protestors had gone inside the building and protested outside the clinic.

The law prohibits “protest by any means” in the exclusion zone and it is this clause upon which the case turns.

But the barrister for the men, John Purnell, told the court there was no prayer vigil and one man was simply holding prayer beads.

He argued that did not constitute protest.

Whatever the outcome of the trial, this case is expected to be appealed in higher courts.

That is because important constitutional issues are at stake including a section that precludes the Commonwealth of Australia from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion.

Mr Purnell argued this section meant the men could express their beliefs by praying at the clinic, but prosecutor James Walker argued this was a law of the Territory and therefore that did not apply.

The case continues.

Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted November 07, 2017 18:59:12

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