NSW debates decriminalising abortion

The NSW government is devoting much of the current parliamentary sitting week for MPs to debate a bill to decriminalise abortion.

Independent Alex Greenwich is due to introduce the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019 on Tuesday and Leader of the House Andrew Constance says the rest of the sitting week will be devoted to debating the draft laws.

“It’s really important that as a conscience vote, everybody’s participation in the debate be respected, which is what will happen,” Mr Constance told reporters.

“There’ll be no curtailing of the debate – it’ll just continue. We’ll allow all members the ability to speak or, if they choose not to, to not participate.”

NSW is the last state to decriminalise abortion, which is currently dealt with under the Crimes Act.

The private members bill would allow for terminations up to 22 weeks and later if two doctors believe it’s appropriate given the medical, physical, social and psychological circumstances.

The draft laws would also create a new criminal offence under the Crimes Act for anyone who assists in terminations without authorisation.

The bill was developed by a cross-party working group, including Nationals MP Trevor Khan and Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Jo Haylen, with oversight from Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian has voiced her support.

“If the legislation contains what I think it does, I’ll be supporting it,” she said on Monday.

“It’s important for (abortion) to be a decision for the woman and for the state not to cast judgment on the morality of that decision.”

The bill will be co-sponsored by 15 MPs from the Liberal and Labor parties, the Nationals, the Greens, the Animal Justice Party and independents.

The National Council of Social Service on Tuesday welcomed the “long overdue” cross-party move on the controversial issue.

“Reproductive health is a fundamental human rights issue for women, and it does not belong in the Crimes Act,” chief executive Joanna Quilty said in a statement.

“Abortion should be treated like any other medical procedure and regulated as such.

“Instead in NSW, women, their partners and doctors have had criminal charges hanging over their heads when making reproductive choices.”

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists also welcomed the bill, saying abortion should be regulated as a health procedure.

The legislation has come under fire from pro-life activists and the Catholic church.

“I urge all Catholics to rally against this proposed law and, at the same time, recommit ourselves to reaching out with prayer and practical support for women in crisis,” Sydney Archbishop Anthony Fisher said on Monday.

Christian organisation FamilyVoice Australia on Tuesday urged MPs to vote against the bill and “exert proper parliamentary scrutiny on a bill of extreme significance to human life and worth”.

“Any move to suspend normal parliamentary process, including committee scrutiny, fails to give the NSW public and their representative MPs the ability to voice concerns,” FamilyVoice’s NSW director Greg Bondar said in a statement.

Ms Berejiklian on Tuesday said she didn’t begrudge MPs for holding strong positions on the issue.

“At the end of the day it’s an independent member putting the bill forward and it’s up to all of us to dig deep and really decide what our personal views are on the matter,” she told reporters.

AAP

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