Anti-abortionists are lining up behind a bill in NSW that threatens to set a legal precedent defining a foetus of over 20 weeks as a living person.

The bill, known as Zoe’s law No. 2, would allow charges of grievous bodily harm to be brought over assaults on a pregnant woman that lead to miscarriage.

Liberal Chris Spence introduced the measure as a private members’ bill in August, arguing that the change will not impact on abortion law, as it specifically exempts anything done in the course of a medical procedure or with the consent of a woman. But anti-abortionists see its legal redefinition of a foetus as a living person as a way to start entrenching this principle, in order to attack abortion rights.

The bill is a revised version of legislation first introduced by anti-abortionist Reverend Fred Nile, and also has the support of Liberal Attorney General Greg Smith, the former President of NSW Right to Life.
It was first proposed after Brodie Donegan, who suffered a miscarriage after she was hit by a driver under the influence of drugs in 2010, voiced her support for the change. The amendment has been named Zoe’s law after the name given to her unborn child.

Yet even the NSW Bar Association opposes the bill, arguing it has no legal rationale. An existing offence under the NSW Crimes Act already allows the destruction of a foetus against the mother’s wishes to be considered a crime against the woman, punishable with a maximum 25 years in jail. It argues that it would set a legal precedent whose adoption, “would be difficult to resist… in respect of other New South Wales criminal laws”. The Australian Medical Association and the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also oppose the bill.

The legislation will come back before the NSW Parliament on October 17. Disgracefully, the Labor Party has allowed its members a conscience vote on the bill, following the example of the Coalition. While individual Labor MPs, including Opposition Leader John Robertson and Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch, oppose it, the bill may still pass given the huge majority held by Coalition MPs in NSW.

A coalition of women’s rights groups and service providers called “Our bodies, our choices” is spearheading a campaign against the bill, with the support of Greens upper house MP Mehreen Farqui.

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