National News

NSW women's minister at odds with new law

People who harass women within 150 metres of a NSW abortion clinic could be jailed under new laws - but the state's current and former ministers for women don't agree with the move.

The laws, which make it illegal to communicate, film or intimidate women near abortion clinics, passed parliament late on Thursday night after a marathon sitting.

First offenders face up to six months in prison, and repeat offenders up to a year.

Coalition MPs were given a conscience vote on the issue by Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who supported the bill.

A notable opponent of the bill was Minister for Women Tanya Davies, who said the laws didn't distinguish between sharing information and harassment.

"(It) will be counterproductive to the object of women having choice by denying support and informed choice to vulnerable women when they need it the most," Ms Davies said.

"I believe the penalties imposed by the bill are excessive, disproportionate and out of step with comparative legislation in NSW."

The minister's comments "defied belief", according to medical professional Paul Nattrass, who manages a Surry Hills reproductive clinic.

"One of the things that many people, staff or patients have mentioned to us how disappointed they were that the minister for women voted against the bill," Mr Nattrass told AAP.

"We're so relieved and so delighted on behalf of the patients that come to the clinic and the staff who work here."

Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Pru Goward, a former sex discrimination commissioner and minister for women, also voted against the bill.

She said it was an attack on freedom of speech.

"My position I know will please no-one but it is the position of my conscience," Ms Goward told parliament.

Sydney's Catholic Archbishop went a step further, claiming the laws were a "direct attack on freedom of religion, speech and association".

Anthony Fisher said no 'zone' has been put around churches, where worshippers are sometimes harassed and abused.

"It's as if the only thing that is 'sacred' is an abortion clinic," he said in a statement.

"The impact of this new law should not be underestimated."

NSW Nationals leader John Barilaro, who supported the bill, told parliament he had visited an abortion clinic with a young woman 27 years ago.

"When you actually attend you're scared, the fear is already inside you," Mr Barilaro said, adding he didn't want his daughters to be accosted by protesters if they needed to go through the same experience.

Labor MP Jenny Aitchison argued it wasn't curtailing free speech but simply setting boundaries around places where women endure "some of most difficult experiences of their lives".

ALP colleague Penny Sharpe, the bill's architect, said parliament had taken a "small but important step" to give women in NSW safe access to medical treatment.

Australian Medical Association NSW's president Dr Kean-Seng Lim welcomed the bill.

© AAP 2018