The New South Wales Parliament has voted down a bill to change sections 82 to 84 of the state Crimes Act and decriminalise abortion in the state.
Yesterday, the Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016 was defeated with 25 MPs voting against the proposed change.
The vote means that NSW continues to be the only state in the country to preserve abortion as a criminal act, with proposals to reform relevant laws in Queensland before Parliament.
Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have all enacted legislation to legalise the medical procedure.
The Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) issued a statement ahead of a scheduled debate of the bill in the NSW Parliament on Thursday. The group said that the law, which the Parliament has now voted to preserve, means that abortion providers in NSW continue to operate in a legally ambiguous space.
As a result uncertainty prevails for members of the medical profession and wider community.
Rita Shackel, who is a subcommittee co-chair for the ALHR’s women and girls’ group, said there was an overwhelming consensus in the community that these reforms should be made. She said that 81 per cent of Australians believe a woman should have the right to choose to have an abortion, citing findings from the Australian Survey of Social Attitudes.
“Those who seek abortions should not be treated as criminals and the majority of Australians recognise that our laws need to change to reflect this,” Ms Shackel said.
Under NSW’s existing criminal laws, the ALHR noted that abortion is punishable by as much as 10 years.
The bill, introduced by Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi, also proposed additional provisions to the Summary Offences Act to create a 150-metre safety zone around clinics. The reforms would have also required those doctors who take conscientious issue with pregnancy termination to refer patients on to another practitioner.
ALHR’s Anna Kerr added that the law in NSW did not reflect community values or internationally recognised human rights principles.
Criminalising abortion was an archaic government policy, she said, that ran against human rights obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
“Australia has an obligation to protect the rights of women and girls to access health services, including family planning and to decide freely and responsibly on the number and spacing of their children, and to have access to the information, education and means to enable them to exercise these rights,” Ms Kerr said.
“Decriminalisation of abortion has already occurred in Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania and most recently the Northern Territory. However, in the context of President Trump’s anti-abortion ‘global gag rule’ and the recent reintroduction of Zoe’s Law by Fred Nile in NSW, there is no place for complacency in relation to reproductive rights,” she said.
“ALHR calls on the NSW government to act in accordance with Australia’s international human rights obligations and support the passing of this legislation to provide safe and legal access to abortion services.”
The NSW parliamentarians defeated the bill with a conscience vote on Thursday, with 25 against and 14 votes for the law reforms.
Dr Faruqi released a statement after the failed bid to change the criminal status of abortion in NSW. The MP said she was disappointed and that the vote was “completely out of step with modern medical practice”.
“It is really disappointing to see that every member of the Liberal and National party voted against decriminalisation of abortion and only one of them stood up to tell the community why,” Dr Faruqi said.
“Talking to women, doctors and nurses across NSW from Byron to Bega, from Albury to Newcastle and across Sydney, one thing is for sure, there is an overwhelming appetite in the community for a woman’s choice and for abortion to be taken out of the Crimes Act,” she said.
“This bill was not about promoting or not promoting abortion. It was about choice.”
Dr Faruqi provided a list of those members who voted against the bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW. They are:
Lou Amato (Liberal), Niall Blair (Nationals), Robert Borsak (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers), Robert Brown (Shooters, Fishers and Farmers), David Clarke (Liberal), Rick Colless (Nationals), Catherine Cusack (Liberal), Greg Donnelly (Labor), Scott Farlow (Liberal Party), Ben Franklin (Nationals), Duncan Gay (Nationals) , Trevor Khan (Nationals), Scot MacDonald (Liberal), Natasha Maclaren-Jones (Liberal), Shayne Mallard (Liberal), Taylor Martin (Liberal), Sarah Mitchell (Nats), Paul Green (Christian Democratic Party), Don Harwin (Liberal), Shaoquett Moselmane (Labor), Reverend Fred Nile (Christian Democratic Party), Greg Pearce (Liberal), Peter Phelps (Liberal), Bronnie Taylor (Nats), Ernest Wong (Labor).