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Pro-lifers draw inspiration from Bob Brown in defence of abortion clinic charges

Supporters of a Melbourne mother of 13 who was the first person in Victoria convicted of breaching abortion clinic "buffer zone" laws are drawing inspiration from an unlikely source.

Pro-life groups say they could make a similar argument to former Greens leader Bob Brown to overthrow new safe access zone laws in Tasmania and Victoria banning protests within 150 metres of an abortion clinic.

Brown, who was arrested filming an anti-logging video in the Lapoinya state forest, argued before the High Court that Tasmania's anti-protest law contravened the implied freedom of political communication.

Australian Christian Lobby's Lyle Shelton said the same argument could be made to overthrow Tasmania and Victoria's abortion clinic "buffer zone" rules.

"We think they are an unjust law," Mr Shelton said. "We'd like to take them further. Whether they get all the way to the High Court is yet to be seen."

The lobby partly funded the defence for Kathy Clubb, who was convicted and fined $5000 by Magistrate Luisa Bazzani this month for handing a pamphlet to a couple outside a fertility control clinic in East Melbourne last year.


The 51-year-old became the first Victorian convicted under the law, which was designed to protect women by stopping pro-life supporters approaching people entering and leaving the clinics.

Ms Clubb didn't dispute she approached the couple, but argued the law infringed her freedom of political communication.

"I've been fined $5000 for attempting to save a baby from being killed and for trying to save its parents from a lifetime of regret," Ms Clubb wrote in a blog post.

Tania Penovic, a senior lecturer at Monash University's Castan Centre for Human Rights Law, said the law achieves completely the opposite.

"For Victorian women, the conviction demonstrates that legislation which seeks to protect their privacy, safety and wellbeing, and respects their reproductive autonomy will be enforced," Dr Penovic said.

Ms Clubb would not comment to The Sunday Age except to say her lawyers were looking into the matter.

Online, the theology student and aspiring teacher continued to call for donations to fund her legal defence, which was provided by the Human Rights Law Alliance, an offshoot of the christian lobby.

The alliance provides legal defence for the lobby's strategic cases; a street evangelist who argued for a permit to preach, a doctor who refused to advise a couple on IVF and, in this case, pro-lifers outside abortion clinics.

"We don't see it as protesting. We go there to pray and consider it more of a vigil. The Catholic Church has always accompanied the dying with prayer," Family Life International's executive director Paul Hanrahan said.

Sources close to the case say Ms Clubb, the Melbourne coordinator of Family Life, was selected to test the law and an appeal against the decision was imminent.

The highly organised and wealthy pro-life groups were also connected to another appeal in Tasmania, which was put on hold in lieu of the Brown decision.

"There's an inference it's a national attempt," one source said.

"Anywhere where there are these laws [just in Tasmania and Victoria], they'll trigger them so all of these cases happen at the same time."

And the end game is a case before the High Court.

"We see it as an obligation to get these laws to a place where they could be challenged," Mr Hanrahan said.

Brown claimed last week's judgement as a win for the right to protest because the court found Tasmania's anti-protest laws were too broad and vague. But constitutional law lecturer and lawyer Brendan Gogarty said the High Court judges agreed the State of Tasmania could criminalise certain types of protest that threatened personal safety or business.

"The court therefore said you don't have a right to protest where it interferes with the rights of others," Dr Gogarty said.

Victoria's safe access zone laws were more specific than Tasmania's, Dr Gogarty said, and tailored to an identified risk to the safety, privacy and dignity of people who use or work at abortion clinics.

"Tailored laws are more likely to survive constitutional challenge," he said.

In Victoria, Inspector Gerry Cartwright said Victoria Police would continue to enforce the exclusion zones.

"We have advice the legislation stands," Inspector Cartwright said.

Dr Susie Allanson was the East Melbourne clinic's psychologist for 26 years before her retirement last month.

She said the law had stopped the six-day-a-week vigils orchestrated by the Helpers of God's Precious Infants for the first time in her career.

"We went from one day women coming in distressed and angry, to the next day a normal health service and it's been wonderful," she said.