THE Human Rights Law Centre has dismissed a Tasmanian academic's concerns that new laws decriminalising abortion are vulnerable to a High Court challenge.
University of Tasmania constitutional law lecturer Michael Stokes said the Australian-first introduction of 150-metre protest-free "access zones" around abortion clinics could be in violation of the implied right to political communication.
The Reproductive Health Act imposes maximum penalties of 12 months' jail or a $9750 fine for harassing, intimidating or obstructing a person within an access zone, as well as abortion-related protesting, including silent or prayer vigils, footpath interference or recording of patients or staff.
Mr Stokes said there was an open question about whether the constitutional implied right to political communication extended to a right to target a particular group, and said if it did there was a "significant chance" a High Court challenge against that provision would succeed.
"If it does not protect the targeting of a group, well then, you can move your demonstration down a few metres and it's no great infringement," he said.
However, Mr Stokes said he opposed the law regardless of its constitutionality, saying it "goes too far in restricting freedom of speech".
Human Rights Law Centre director Rachel Ball said access zones struck a "healthy balance".
"Access zones are needed to ensure that women and staff can access health services free from harassment and intimidation," Ms Ball said.
"Australian Constitutional law and international human rights law both permit these kinds of reasonable and appropriate restrictions on free speech," Ms Ball said.
Leading constitutional lawyer Professor George Williams offered his opinion on Twitter, saying it was "very hard indeed to see the High Court striking this down".
Tasmanian branches of the Australian Christian Lobby and FamilyVoice both said they strongly opposed the new laws in their entirety and were considering their options.
However, both said they did not have any plans to mount a legal challenge.