A new lobbying group, the Pro-Choice Alliance, formed by 60 medical and health organisations around NSW, has shone a light on the state’s archaic and sexist abortion laws.

The Alliance, which includes the Human Rights Law Centre, NSW Nurses and Midwives Association and Domestic Violence NSW, will campaign to remove abortion from the state’s criminal code. The campaign was prompted by changes to abortion law in Queensland last year, where the Termination of Pregnancy Bill removed the procedure from the criminal code.

NSW is the only state in Australia where abortion remains a crime, except in cases where the life or wellbeing of the mother is threatened. While prosecutions are rare, the threat remains.

In 2017 a woman in Sydney was prosecuted after she bought drugs online for a medical abortion.

Women in NSW sometimes have to travel interstate when they have been denied an abortion locally.

This is particularly the case for women in rural and regional areas where doctors might be personally known to the woman or are anti-choice.

The situation is especially horrific when a woman is carrying a foetus that has not developed properly or is unlikely to survive. In these cases, where there is no direct threat to the physical or mental health of the mother, the woman must face a panel of doctors and administrators to request an abortion.

This process is often drawn out and traumatic, and women sometimes have to wait up to two weeks to even be seen by the panel.

Many pro-choice advocates had been banking on Labor victories at both a state and federal level. Labor had laid out plans to amend the law in NSW and expand access to abortion, which remains expensive and is largely confined to private clinics. Instead, advocates are facing conservative, largely anti-choice Coalition state and federal governments.

While NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has said she is pro-choice and would allow a conscience vote on a private member’s bill, her government announced in March that they had no plans to remove abortion from the Crimes Act. 

After the frightening attack on women’s reproductive rights in Trump’s America, with the states of Georgia and Alabama outlawing abortion altogether, the question of a woman’s right to decide has again come to the fore, and shows that hard-won rights can be rolled back.

But pro-choice advocates in NSW cannot rely on the conscience of sexist Liberal and National MPs to win the right to choose.

This will require a mass campaign that goes beyond lobbying and forces the state to relinquish its control over women’s bodies and give it back to women themselves.

By Caitlin Doyle

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