Above: Protesters gather outside NSW Parliament House in Sydney’s Macquarie Street in August. Image: Right To Life NSW, Giovanni Portelli Photography.
Disappointment and frustration are running high among pro-life campaigners, after the State Government today gave the final nod to decriminalise abortion in NSW.
After a gruelling 40 hours of debate, which took more than a week, the NSW Upper House last night voted 26 to 14 in favour of the Abortion Law Reform Bill – with a number of amendments attached. And this morning, the Lower House unanimously gave the final green light to the legislation – originally introduced in August as the “Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill”.
Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher described the outcome as “a defeat for humanity” and “a very dark day for NSW”.
Outspoken Liberal MPs Kevin Connolly and Tanya Davies, who had threatened to leave the Liberals, have stayed with the party after the bill was amended to their satisfaction.
Some Successful Amendments will Help Protect Life
More than 100 amendments were considered in the marathon Upper House debate (the third-longest in the state’s history), and pro-life groups are grateful that a few were approved, which give some protection to women and babies. They include:
- Babies who are born alive when an abortion procedure fails, will now be protected under the new legislation – with doctors required to give them medical care.
- Gender-selection abortions are opposed in the legislation, and over the next 12 months a study will be done into whether the practice occurs, with a view to taking measures to prevent it.
- Statistics on abortion will now have to be collected, meaning that for the first time, NSW will have solid data available on abortion rates. Data is not collected in most other states.
- Late term abortions (from 22 weeks onwards) will now be more restricted, and doctors will be required to make counselling available for women who request an abortion at that stage of pregnancy.
Dr Rachel Carling, the CEO of Right to Life NSW, said these were positive measures.
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“The amendments won’t stop late term abortions, but it will restrict them,” she said. “It won’t be unfettered access. The process will be a little bit harder.”
“An amendment to discourage coercion was also passed, and the conscientious objection changed a bit. Instead of an objecting doctor having to actively find another doctor for someone who requests an abortion, they will be able to simply give a [NSW Health] website address or number.”
Sale of Foetal Tissue & Body Parts is Legal; No Anaesthetic for Late Term Babies
However Dr Carling was disappointed that the government rejected a number of other crucial amendments – including one that attempted to ban the sale and trafficking of foetal tissue and aborted babies’ body parts.
“The amendment about the selling of foetal tissue and banning that trade, that failed,” she said.
“An amendment that would see doctors illegally practicing abortion being disciplined, also failed. So they won’t have a criminal conviction. This outcome doesn’t discourage bad practice.
“We also failed to get informed consent written into the legislation; and we failed to define what an emergency abortion is. That was an attempt to link late term abortions only to the threat of a mother’s life.”
Also rejected was an amendment that sought to give anaesthetic to late-term babies, before they are subjected to abortion. MP Tanya Davies considered this a “sensible” amendment, and said it was a “serious flaw” in the bill not to include it.
Abortion of Babies with Disability Will Not be Discouraged
Dr Rachel Carling was deeply upset that an amendment seeking to better inform women about disabilities, was rejected.
The aim of this proposal was to help potential mothers make a more informed choice about termination if their baby had a disability diagnosis.
Many of the MPs who voted against this amendment reasoned that women should be more trusted to make their own decision. Dr Carling responded: “We do trust women – and part of that trust is enabling them to make an informed decision.”
“I’m a disability professional by background,” she said. “We had called for an amendment to simply give information to women. Where their baby has is diagnosed with a disability, we wanted doctors to give women information about it.
“Rather than being given information about Down Syndrome, a lot of women are told by doctors, ‘we’ll take care of that baby for you’…”
“The idea was that when your baby is diagnosed with Down Syndrome, you should be given a brochure of information about Down Syndrome. But we have failed to give them that information.”
As a result, the medical system will continue making women feel that abortion is the only sensible option, Dr Carling says.
“An experience a lot of women have, is that rather than being given information about Down Syndrome, for example, they are told by doctors, ‘we’ll take care of that baby for you’…”
Dr Carling believes many doctors favour termination in the case of disability, as they fear litigation. She cited the example of the Queensland couple who are suing a doctor and ultrasound clinic – and seeking damages for the cost of child-rearing – for failing to diagnose their daughter’s Down Syndrome before birth.
MPs Still Concerned, Lobby Groups Plan More Campaigning
Liberal MP Tanya Davies told Macquarie News today she is still deeply concerned over the abortion legislation, but conceded that a properly parliamentary process had been carried out.
“There are still very grave concerns I had, but at the end of the day I had to fight the battle as much as I could, with as much energy and logic and reason as I could. And we’ve got a better bill.“
In a Facebook post today Ms Davies thanked supporters, saying their activism had made a significant difference to the legislation. “[The] amendments will ensure that many babies will be saved and many women provided with better support and safeguards than what the original bill would have delivered,” she said.
While Right to Life NSW members were today feeling deflated, the group plans to continue campaigning for the lives of the unborn with further marches and activism.
“There’s so much energy and upset and anger and disappointment in the pro-life movement at the moment, and our job will be to ensure peoples’ voices continue to be heard,” she said. “The only way to change this legislation is to change the parliament. We will continue to gather numbers and make an impact at the next election.”