'An historic moment': 119 years later, bill decriminalising abortion passes NSW lower house

‘An historic moment’: 119 years later, bill decriminalising abortion passes NSW lower house

A bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW passed the lower house late last night, with cheers and applause heard throughout the chamber as the state moved one step closer to most of the rest of Australia on abortion laws.

The conscience vote followed two weeks of debate, and saw 59 voting in favour, including Premier Gladys Berejiklian, versus 31 against. Debating the bill, Health Minister Brad Hazzard called it an “opportunity to right a wrong enacted into law 119 years ago.”

Following the successful vote last night independent MP Alex Greenwich called it an “historic moment in our time”. “The law does not treat women with dignity or trust them to make a decision about their bodies, their life, and their healthcare. This reform is long overdue,”

The bill now goes to the NSW upper house, and is expected to be voted on within two weeks. It will remove sections of the NSW Crimes Act that criminalises “unlawfully” attempting to procure an abortion, and will allow abortion on request up to 22 weeks’ gestation performed by a registered doctor, with women needing the consent of two doctors beyond 22 weeks.

Fifteen MPs co-sponsored the legislation introduced by Greenwich that saw MPs debating passionately about why they would or would not support the legislation over the past three days.

At least 19 amendments were put forward, with many rejected. However, a number of changes did go through, with the co-sponsors agreeing that one of the two doctors permitted to sign off on a termination after 22 weeks must be a specialist gynaecologist or obstetrician.

Other amendments debated included that late-term abortions could only be done in approved public facilities and with “informed consent” — amendments the Australian Medical Association said could put doctors and women at risk. The Association believes that a statutory requirement for doctors to have “informed consent” before performing the procedure in Australia creates an “extra hurdle” and will cause confusion and is “unnecessary and insulting” given it’s already required of doctors  — still, this change to the bill was approved 49-41.

Liberal MPs Mark Speakman and Rob Stokes had proposed, but then later withdrew,  placing additional restrictions on terminations after 22 weeks that would require a four-person hospital advisory committee to approved the procedure, rather than a second medical practitioner as the bill has proposed.

Meanwhile Liberal MP Tanya Davies had proposed amendments to lower the threshold for restrictions on abortions from 22 to 20 weeks. This was also voted down.

“I respect your right not to have an abortion,” bill co-sponsor MP Jenny Leong told the lower house, adding that what they were talking about was how they limit the rights of women who need to make the choice.

“Let us not stand in the way and put other stress and other trauma and other barriers on to access when women find themselves making a decision in this situation.”

Leong wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday about an abortion she had at age 20, and that she hoped these deeply personal stories would be the last time MPs would need to share them.

“People should absolutely have the right to choose not to have an abortion, just as they should have the right to have one. Neither decision should be mandated in a criminal code,” she wrote.

“That’s why politicians need to get out of the way. There is no place for the courts or the Parliament to police these deeply personal and utterly life-changing decisions.”

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