To Pay or Not To Pay

When the group Protect Life began planning to take non-violent action (sit-ins) at the doors of Brisbane’s abortion “clinics” it was realised that participants were likely to face fines, at the very least, for engaging in such activities.

No formal position was adopted by the group as to what those who happened to be fined should do about them, i.e. whether they should pay the fines or not pay them and thereby risk going to jail for not doing so. That decision was simply left for each person so involved to decide for themselves. And that remains the case today, each person’s decision, based on their own convictions and their personal circumstances should, we believe, be respected.

In view of the present situation however, with the prospect of facing a significant period of time in jail myself for not paying fines, we would like to set out more fully our thoughts on this.

Firstly, the situation for myself and Anne Rampa, who also faces a large amount of unpaid fines, goes back to the first actions conducted by Protect Life. We, and at times a couple of other people, were arrested, charged, convicted, and fined many times. Others chose to pay their fines while Anne and I decided not to.

After about 14 convictions we were eventually found not guilty in a case. This not guilty verdict would have made it likely that we would have been successful in an appeal of the earlier convictions. However because of the passage of time, combined with the way the law then stood, we were not able to appeal those convictions. Our only remaining option was to appeal directly to the Governor to have our fines remitted. (Even though the convictions would remain, the penalties could be cancelled.)

Eventually after 2 ½ years we were informed by the Governor that almost half our fines would be remitted. It seemed to us though that there was no logical basis for the remaining fines not to be remitted so we immediately appealed again to the Governor. Another 2 ½ years later and we have now recently been informed by the Governor’s office that our second appeal, without giving any reasons, has been turned down. There are no more avenues for appeal.

Over these years, SPER (the State Penalties Enforcement Register) has been pursuing us about this matter. Now that the Governor’s decision has finally been made we expect to hear soon from SPER and/or the police. Anne has about $2 500 in unpaid fines while I have about $7 500.

One of the options SPER now has is that they can take a person’s driver’s license until they pay their fines. Anne has now been threatened with that. This is more than just a nuisance for her as she drives a school bus for income. Given the amount of my fines, and given that I do not have any assets or money in the bank, it is likely I will be sent to jail in default. This may also be the case for Anne. (However she may just have money taken from her pay instead.) If I am sent to jail it would amount to about 6 months or so and Anne would be in for a shorter time. This of course gives a very immediate and pertinent relevance to our views about whether or not to pay fines.

The following are our reasons for having decided not to pay. The State has fined us on the basis that what we do at the “clinics” is a criminal act. However we do not accept that intervening non-violently to try and prevent children being killed is wrong. Far from it, we believe that trying to save the innocent from harm should be regarded as normal and uncontroversial behaviour.

If we voluntarily pay the fines that can give the appearance that we accept that what we have done is, after all, wrong. Again we would emphasise that we are not saying that those who choose to pay their fines have thereby let down the side, so to speak. For some people there may be no alternative and that is for them to decide in the end. Speaking for ourselves though, we are very reluctant to give any impression that we accept that such intervention as we have done is wrong. Hence we recognise that I, and perhaps Anne too, may go to jail for not paying up.

Going to jail is of course not a desirable thing, either for the person who does so, or for their family who may be very directly negatively affected. Yet our conviction is that this is probably an unavoidable part of seeing the value of all human lives given proper recognition. When anyone pays a very high price for something, it makes everyone ask the question, is it worth it? That is what we want our society to be asking, what are preborn babies worth? We want to say that babies’ lives are worth a person’s, or even many persons’, freedom.

So, even if we could, we would be very reluctant to pay the fines. But having said all that, we recognise that circumstances may arise that, by a person being in jail, unacceptable pressure may be placed on their family. At that point paying the remaining fines and so ending the time in jail may be the right thing to do. Of course that could only be done if the money to pay were available.

Since the last Protect Life report was sent out some people have offered to help pay the fines. At this stage, speaking for myself and my own family, we are not accepting assistance for that, as much as we appreciate the generosity of the offers. This however, as indicated above, may change in the future.

On the other hand, people may like to help financially support the families of those who have someone in jail, if such assistance is needed. To that end, a team of three people, independent of any families who may be in need of support, will be set up to direct any funds that may be offered, as appropriate.

As a group though, Protect Life, does not make any commitment to guarantee to meet the needs of anyone who is fined or sent to jail because of their involvement with the actions. All we can say is that, if we are able to help, then we will, but Protect Life may have little or nothing to help with. Anyone who gets involved with this group must have their primary trust in God to meet their needs.

As far as the future goes, any new people who get involved need to realise that since our win in court all those years ago, we are now being charged with the more serious offence of trespass. Whereas the previous charge of disobeying a police direction could only be penalised with a fine (and jail only if the fine was not paid), the charge of trespass can result in a penalty of up to six months or one year in jail – depending on which particular section the person is charged under. So while a new “offender” may get only a fine or parole initially, a repeat “offender” should expect to spend time in jail.

These are not easy issues to address, but we must never forget that the basic reason why Protect Life exists is to try and stop innocent children being killed. This destruction of human life is a truly awful thing so we should not be surprised that it will require a complete, uncompromising commitment on our part to see things change for the better.

We are always happy to hear any thoughts and suggestions you may have about this.