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Graham Preston (R) protesta in front of an abortion facility in inner-city Hobart, Tasmania. Kathy Clubb
Andrew Smith, Australian correspondent

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Tasmanian abortion bubble-zone charges dropped, police refuse to arrest again

Andrew Smith, Australian correspondent
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Tasmanian pro-abortion activists have been left bitterly disappointed as charges are dropped in the first case under Tasmania's new “bubble zone” laws that prohibit protesting within 150 metres of an abortion facility.  Anyone convicted of the offence faces a potential $9,750 fine and/or 12 months jail under the Reproductive Health (Access to Terminations) Act 2013.

In March this year Brisbane man Graham Preston was in Tasmania to protest in front of abortion facilities in a deliberate attempt to bring attention to the issue ahead of the Tasmanian state elections. He also aimed to test the new law in court.

The hearing was due to be held on Thursday last week, but Preston's lawyers were informed by the prosecutor late Tuesday afternoon prior that the police were not going to offer any evidence.  This was then formalized at the start of the hearing.  Given that the case had made it through two directions hearings and had been set down for two days, Magistrate Catherine Rheinberger was left unimpressed.  She repeatedly pushed the police prosecutor for an explanation.

In response the prosecutor said that in order to be given a lawful move-on direction, the police have to believe that you have committed a crime or are likely to commit a crime.  The police had decided that Preston hadn't committed a crime, nor was he likely to. 

At the time of the arrest Preston was only 10 metres from the entrance of the abortion facility, decidedly within the 150 metres exclusion zone.  (Other media have reported that Preston was charged under the act itself but this is not true.  Preston had only been charged with disobeying a direction to move on after being directed to by a police officer, which in turn would have been issued in the course of enforcing the law.)

Preston's legal team were awarded costs, something that is rare for a criminal trial.

For Preston it was a bizarre experience.  He was well within 150m of a place where abortions are done, but police felt that they couldn't show that he was in breach of the new law.

One possible reason for the police declining to continue with the prosecution is that Preston was carrying signs stating, “Everyone has the right to life” (Article 3 of Universal Declaration of Human Rights) and “Every child has the right to life” (Article 6 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child).  There was also a sign with an illustration of a pre-born baby.

Australia is a signatory to both the convention and the declaration.

If the prosecution had gone ahead, the Tasmanian police would have found themselves arguing that it is illegal to promote the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Further, they would have been effectively saying that the declaration of human rights is opposed to abortion.

Preston's reaction to the charge being dismissed was to go directly back to the place of his arrest, in front the Hobart premises of Specialist Gynaecology Centres, and continue protesting. 

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Continuing his protest on Friday, police again arrived and spoke with him in response to alleged complaints.  After a brief discussion and conferring with their Sargent, the police left without directing to move on or making an arrest.

Preston was back again on Monday and received another visit from police but still no arrests were made with police only noting the identification of Preston and his companions.  The police then visited the abortion business for ten minutes before leaving.

At this stage Preston plans to continue his protest until Friday.

The police will remain under intense pressure to act.  The police commissioner has refused to comment on the dropping of the prosecution until an investigation has been launched and completed. 

Susan Fahey from Women's Legal Service Tasmania has spoken of her disappointment, stating, “I'm baffled because I know for myself I received a large number of emails and and photographs that morning showing an individual outside the clinic with what was clearly a protest banner,” she said.  “I'm quite confused myself as to why there was no evidence cited.”

LifeSiteNews contacted the Women's Legal Service Tasmania a number of times and emailed questions asking her how many emails or complaints Fahey had received, and why someone would contact her service rather than go directly to the police.  No response was received prior to deadline.

Preston is yet to book his flight back to Brisbane.

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