'Time for change': NSW finally set to decriminalise abortion

‘Time for change’: NSW finally set to decriminalise abortion

One hundred and nineteen years is a long time waiting, but that’s how long women have been on the other side of the law in NSW when it comes to their reproductive rights.

This week, things are set to change with the introduction of the ‘Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill”, which aims to decriminalise abortion in the state. The Bill will be introduced by Independent MP for Sydney Alex Greenwich on Wednesday.

It is backed by Coalition’s health minister Brad Hazzard, as well as several other MPs including Minister for Women Bronnie Taylor, Education Minister Sarah Mitchell and Opposition Leader Jodi McKay.

The bill will allow a woman to terminate a pregnancy up to 22 weeks. After this time, terminations would be lawful if two doctors believe it should be performed in light of future physical, social and psychological circumstances.

The bill also aims to create a new criminal offence under the Crimes Act for anyone assisting in terminations who are not authorised to do so. Doing so will attract a maximum penalty of seven years imprisonment.

The Bill was modelled on the Queensland law adopted on October 16 last year, and was developed by a cross-party working group which included Nationals’ Trevor Khan and Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Jo Haylen.

Currently, abortion in NSW falls under the Crimes Act 1900 and is punishable by a maximum penalty of 10 years imprisonment for women and doctors who perform them.

On Sunday, Greenwich, Hazzard and NSW Pro-choice Alliance Chair Wendy McCarthy faced media to make statements.

“To think that there is somebody possibly today, possibly tomorrow, sitting in a doctor’s surgery and being told that, “your decision is not a health decision, it’s not your decision, it’s actually something that could see you have a criminal charge” is just wrong,” Minister Hazzard said.

“The bill ensures women in NSW have access to safe and lawful terminations without the threat of criminal convictions and provides doctors with the legal clarity they have long sought,” Greenwich said.

NSW remains the only state in the country yet to decriminalise abortion. According to the Australian Medical Association (NSW), this places women and doctors under a “different and stigmatised legal arrangement to other states”.

Abortion is healthcare and it must be treated as such, Deborah Bateson told Fairfax today. As the medical director of Family Planning NSW, she has worked in reproductive and sexual health for 20 years. “This move comes with support from the 70 per cent of NSW residents who have said they are ready to see abortion decriminalised, a collective of more than 70 key health, legal, women’s and domestic violence organisations, and from across the political spectrum,” she said.

“I can sense the relief this news will bring to colleagues who have devoted careers to improving women’s health, and to the women I have been privileged to encounter who have had an abortion themselves and who want to ensure those who require this service in the future can do so with dignity rather than shame.”

NSW Greens spokesperson for Women’s Rights, Jenny Leong MP said in a statement:

“It’s past time for women to have the right to make decisions about their own bodies. It’s time for abortion law reform. If we succeed in getting this change through the NSW Parliament, it will be the culmination of a campaign that our mothers, indeed our grandmothers, feminists and pro-choice activists have been fighting for over generations.”

Earlier today, she posted on Facebook: “The barrier has always been men, lawmakers and the state trying to control women and our bodies. The imposition of restrictions and regulations on the bodies of those that do not ‘conform’ to the ‘norm’ (cis men) continues. All people have the right to safe, accessible, reproductive healthcare choices – the criminalisation of decisions we make about our bodies must end. We cannot all be equal until we are all treated equally under the law.”

Claire Pullen, Chairman of Our Bodies Our Choices said in a statement:
“The majority of people in NSW support the right to access abortion care. It’s time our laws reflected that. Abortion is one of the most common medical procedures for women, but it’s expensive and almost entirely privatised. We wouldn’t accept that in any other type of healthcare, nor making potential criminals of patients,
doctors and health professionals.”

A public rally in support of the bill will be held outside state parliament on July 31, 8am.

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