A bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW passed the lower house of state parliament on 8 August, overturning an archaic law written 119 years ago. NSW is the last state where abortion remained a crime following decriminalisation in Queensland last year.
The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill, introduced by independent MP Alex Greenwich, repeals all existing offences relating to abortion in the NSW Crimes Act. The bill allows terminations up to 22 weeks to be carried out by a doctor on request, with later abortions needing the approval of two doctors. The bill passed 59 votes to 31 in the lower house and will be debated in the upper house from 20 August, where it is expected to pass with a slim majority.
There is overwhelming public support for a woman’s right to choose. But only 19 out of 35 Liberal MPs voted for the bill, revealing the deep divisions within the party. In an attempt to placate the bigots, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has now signalled her support for an amendment banning abortions based on “gender selection”. This was despite the state’s chief obstetrician saying that gender selection did not take place in NSW. Labor is also considering the amendment.
But the decision over whether to have an abortion should be between a woman and her doctor, whatever her reasons for doing so. The amendment is a simply an attempt to stigmatise abortion. It must be opposed by all pro-choice advocates.
While a clear majority of Labor MPs supported the bill, disgracefully, the party did not bind its members and instead allowed a conscience vote.
The decriminalisation of abortion in NSW would be an important step forwards in the fight for reproductive rights in Australia. The bill will allow NSW Health to fund services, including Family Planning NSW, to provide outpatient and day procedure services, including in regional areas.
Currently, while abortions are one of the most common medical procedures for women, the vast majority are done by private providers and are expensive. Women living in regional areas often have to travel hours to get to a clinic.
The fight for publicly provided, accessible abortion services will have to continue after the bill has passed.
By Caitlin Doyle