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Lawyer sets record straight on NSW crime of abortion

The decision made by NSW Parliament earlier this month to derail a reform bill that would have taken abortion out of the state Crimes Act was marred in a campaign of misinformation, according to one lawyer.

user iconMelissa Coade 30 May 2017 The Bar
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Anna Kerr from the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) has described the rejection of a bill to decriminalise abortion in NSW as the being result of a political campaign to disperse misinformation about the proposed law reform.

There was a lot of misinformation put out that this was about late-term termination, such isn’t the case.

In fact, by making abortions more accessible [there is likely to be] fewer late-term interventions,” Ms Kerr said.


Speaking to Lawyers Weekly about the 24 to 14 vote down of the bill proposed by Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi in May, the lawyer set the record straight about the current status quo of the criminal law in NSW and the implications it has for women.

According to the 100-year-old law, women who access abortion services and their doctors are liable for imprisonment for a maximum of 10 years.

“There is also quite a lot of misunderstanding in this area, when you talk about [abortion]. Because people think that it’s already legal – they don’t know really what this whole debate is about,” Ms Kerr said.

“I think women really need to realise this is quite an important issue. Although it may seem remote from some women’s lives, because they have this access, for many women in our community it is still an inaccessible healthcare,” she said.

The co-chair of the ALHR women and girls subcommittee said the ramifications were worse for regional women, who faced additional barriers accessing health services.  

For example, abortion is not covered by the public healthcare system and women who do elect to undergo the medical procedure need about $500 on hand.

Ms Kerr added that by keeping abortion in the state’s Crimes Act, NSW politicians were acting contrary to international law and the modern position of most other states and territories in Australia.

Citing articles 12 and 16 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the fundamental issue is really about women’s self-determination, she said.

“It’s very important that women own a position to determine their own medical care and make their own choices.

“These provisions that are in the Crimes Act were drafted before women had the vote. Things have moved on, and that legislation is really out of step with community attitudes,” Ms Kerr said.

“These decisions are for women to make, and it’s a private decision that they should make in consultation with their doctors and families. But it’s their decision, not the decision of the men in Parliament.”

Ms Kerr went on to note the three objectives of the Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016 were to declassify abortion as a crime in NSW; compel those doctors with a conscientious objection to abortion, to refer patients to other health professionals; and create a 150-metre exclusion zone from protest around abortion clinics.

By blocking law reforms to take abortion out of the Crimes Act, the NSW Parliament was perpetuating ambiguity about the lawfulness of the medical procedure in the state, she said.

“It really was a bit of housekeeping to get those [provisions] removed from the Crimes Act.”

“Women take these rights for granted, and we are seeing [other] various services for women being dismantled at a rapid rate.

“But I think the wider community’s still not aware the extent to which that’s happening,” she said.

In Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and the ACT have all enacted legislation to legalise the medical procedure.

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