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New South Wales decriminalises abortion


Paul Hayes


26/09/2019 1:56:14 PM

The controversial bill has finally passed the state’s lower house after several weeks of often-intense debate.

Alex Greenwich in parliament
Independent MP Alex Greenwich speaking during the passing of the amended Abortion Law Reform Act. (Image: AAP)

The passing of the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2019 (previously the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019) means abortion is officially decriminalised in New South Wales, after a century of being included in the state’s criminal code.
 
The bill passed the upper house on Wednesday night by a vote of 26–14, following a marathon 40 hours of discussion, before moving through the lower house on Thursday morning.
 
Independent MP Alex Greenwich first introduced the bill to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act in August this year.
 
‘With the passage of this bill, abortion will be decriminalised in NSW – I am sorry that has taken us so long,’ Mr Greenwich said in a statement.

While opponents of the bill have long fought for significant amendments, its key aspects remain, including:

  • removing abortion from the Crimes Act
  • allowing an abortion up to 22 weeks
  • allowing an abortion after 22 weeks with the approval of two ‘specialist medical practitioners’. 

Debate over the bill unearthed deep divisions within the NSW Liberal Party, with conservative MPs Tanya Davies and Kevin Connolly threatening to leave the party and move to the crossbench if amendments were not made.
 
Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who was not in the chamber for Thursday morning’s final vote, even briefly faced the prospect of a leadership spill over the issue.
 
‘The contents of the amendments before the house this morning … actually creates more safeguards for women, for doctors and for babies born alive,’ Ms Davies told The Australian.
 
Mr Greenwich outlined the bill’s amendments:
 
  • Change the name of the act to Abortion Law Reform Act
  • Clarify informed consent provisions to ensures authorised persons can make decision about terminations on a patient’s behalf
  • Mandate medical care for child born alive
  • Require doctors to provide information about counselling services after 22 weeks
  • Allow doctors with a conscientious objection to comply with requirements by providing a pamphlet approved by NSW Health
  • Ensure the review into sex selection results in new professional standards
  • Require non-identifying data be collected about abortions performed in NSW
  • Ensure the domestic violence offence of intimidation captures coercing a person to receive, or not receive, an abortion, with a maximum penalty of two years in prison
  • Recognise that doctors performing abortions after 22 weeks can seek advice from a
    multidisciplinary team or hospital advisory committee
‘The Legislative Council has clarified and expanded some provisions of the bill, while voting down several amendments that would have created barriers for women seeking safe access to an abortion,’ Mr Greenwich said on Wednesday night.
 
‘In consultation with members of the working group who brought the bill to the Parliament and the health minister, it is my view that these amendments should be accepted.’



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