NSW push to decriminalise abortion stalls

Evelyn Lewin

30/07/2019 4:11:45 PM

Conservative MPs have successfully delayed the bill’s introduction.

Pro-choice protesters.
Protesters hold signs at the Our Body Our Choice march in Sydney earlier this year.

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 was set to be debated in Parliament before Friday, but has been pushed back until next week following ‘robust’ behind the scenes discussions.
The proposed legislation would remove termination of pregnancy from the state’s 119-year-old criminal code, and instead create a standalone healthcare act to regulate the procedure.
It is being co-sponsored by 15 MPs from five different parties – more than any other piece of legislation in NSW history – and has the support of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
However, it has also attracted a number of vocal opponents, including Christian Democrat Upper House MP Reverend Fred Nile who described it as ‘worse than any other bill that’s been put to Parliament’.
The private members bill, which is being introduced by independent MP Alex Greenwich, will allow termination of pregnancy on-request for women up to 22 weeks gestation, performed by a registered doctor. Women further along than 22 weeks gestation would need the consent of two doctors.
It also creates a criminal offence with a maximum penalty of seven years’ imprisonment, for any unqualified person who performs or assists a termination.
Upon announcing the new timetable, Mr Greenwich said he was disappointed with the delay and that the legislation is ‘long overdue’.
‘I’m glad that we have a clear and committed timetable from the government. There is continued and strong support for this bill,’ he said.
‘It should go through the Lower House next week and I hope into the Upper House.’
If passed, doctors who have a conscientious objection to pregnancy termination would have to disclose this to their patient and refer her to another doctor who has no objection.
NSW is the only Australian state or territory that has not decriminalised abortion, which still carries a maximum penalty of up to 10 years imprisonment for women and their doctors.
Despite the delay, Professor Danielle Mazza, Head of the Department of General Practice at Monash University and the Director of SPHERE, the NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence in Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health in Primary Care, told newsGP the introduction of the bill is welcome.
‘It’s about time that NSW decriminalises abortion,’ she said.
‘The move to put this forward with cross-party support, and the health minister’s support, and the AMA and RANZCOG’s [The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists] support, is all very welcome and I wish [the bill] a speedy passage through.’
Professor Mazza says decriminalising abortion can lead to many improved outcomes, especially as it increases women’s access to what she calls ‘an essential part’ of reproductive health services for women.
‘It’s also about destigmatising it for health professionals so that they feel more secure undertaking this important work when it’s required,’ she said.
‘This is particularly pertinent for general practice because of the high cost and the difficulty accessing surgical abortion.
‘[Destigmatising abortion will give GPs] the confidence to be able to take up the delivery of medical abortion, which has been very slow to get off the ground in Australia despite its availability for several years.’
Professor Mazza believes general practice should play a pivotal part in helping women access terminations of pregnancy.
‘General practice should really be at the forefront of the delivery of medical abortion, which has been available in Australia under the PBS since 2013,’ she said.
‘If you decriminalise abortion and take it out of the criminal code, then it becomes a health matter.
‘Then, health professionals have more confidence in providing the service.’
She says more work is needed to integrate medical abortion into primary care, so that it is able to deliver comprehensive women’s health services.
‘Abortions are a reality; it’s a required essential health service for women,’ she said.
‘General practice needs to have the confidence to be able to provide that service, and be supported to be able to provide that service, in a high quality fashion where it’s required and in the context of comprehensive sexual health and reproductive health services such as the provision of contraception.’
The NSW bill has been modelled on Queensland legislation, which was introduced last year.
State Health Minister Brad Hazzard has also shown support for this bill and said the risk of criminal charges for women seeking abortion, and her doctor, ‘is just wrong’.
‘I believe it is time for respectful debate, but I also recognise it’s time change,’ he said.
‘[This bill] allows others to have the right to their termination irrespective of other’s views in a health framework.’
While the bill has attracted cross-party support, strong opposition is expected from politicians with religious or moral objections. If successful, supporters are hopeful the bill will pass both houses by mid-August.

abortion decriminalisation termination of pregnancy

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Dr Douglas Randell   31/07/2019 8:01:35 PM

The taking of an innocent life will never be 'healthcare', regardless of the legal status of abortion.

Peter Coleman   31/07/2019 9:54:29 PM

Dear Professor Mazza, your assumption that killing a baby could ever be a solution for a mother or a father is astounding. Abortion should never be done unless to save the mother’s life which is very uncommon and is legal in NSW. Otherwise the life of the baby should be saved. This is so important for the beautiful baby , and also for the future life of the mother and father. Funds for pregnancy and baby help are needed and adoption available if the mother or father want this.
Let us preserve life. For people who have had an abortion I extend forgiveness, hope , healing and love for their flawed decision. Please for the sake of our society protect life. I am so grateful that my parents did not abort me. An ultrasound showing the baby’s heart beat at 4 weeks is good evidence that performing an abortion is killing a human being.
Yours faithfully ,
Peter Coleman

Dr Emma Boulton   1/08/2019 10:31:09 AM

As a proud provider of safe abortion services to women in NSW I am astounded to hear my medical colleagues espouse medieval views on this subject. Abortion is a part of routine health care and equity of access is vital. Its lamentable that it has taken so long for NSW politicians to finally grasp this nettle. I encourage all GPs to become providers of medical abortion, providing easy access to a straightforward and safe intervention in order to properly look after women in their communities.

Philippa Ramsay   5/08/2019 8:09:52 PM

Research shows that approximately 30% of Australian women have a termination of pregnancy during their life 15 -45 years. They are not criminals! Decriminalize abortion!