Abortion is decriminalised in New South Wales after weeks of contentious debate and heated protests
This is a storm in a teacup. Abortion has been decriminalized in NSW for years -- ever since the Heatherbrae case. The 1971 case of R v Wald ruled that abortions do not contravene the laws in certain circumstances.
That case involved a criminal trial of five people – most of whom were health care professionals. The five defendants were involved in performing an abortion at the Heatherbrae clinic in Bondi. All were charged under section 83 of the Crimes Act.
The trial judge found that an abortion is lawful if there is an ‘economic, social or medical ground or reason’ upon which the doctor could honestly and reasonably believe that an abortion could avoid a ‘serious danger to the pregnant woman’s life or her physical or mental health.’
All five defendants were ultimately found ‘not guilty’ on that basis – and the ruling opened the doors to women seeking to terminate a pregnancy for reasons such as financial disadvantage or instability, or fears of social stigma and judgment – factors which may negatively affect a woman’s mental wellbeing.
The judgment also affirmed that abortions do not need to be performed in hospitals – paving the way for women’s health clinics around the state.
NSW parliament has passed laws decriminalising abortion following a marathon debate and weeks of protest. There was applause in the lower house on Thursday as the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019 passed its final hurdle.
It comes after the controversial bill passed the upper house 26 votes to 14 on Wednesday night following nearly 40 hours of discussion - making it the third longest debate in the state's house of review.
The bill, presented to parliament in August by Independent MP Alex Greenwich, takes abortion out of the criminal code and allows terminations up to 22 weeks.
'Thank you to all members for the role you have played in this historic reform ... we can feel proud that part of our legacy will be the decriminalisation of abortion in NSW,' the Member for Sydney said.
An amendment passed in the upper house recognised doctors performing abortions after 22 weeks could seek advice from a multi-disciplinary team or hospital advisory committee.
'With the passing of this bill, our parliament affirms that we trust women,' Labor MP and bill co-sponsor Jo Haylen said just before the final vote. 'We trust women to make decisions about their own lives and about their own bodies.'
The legislation was opposed by religious groups, anti-abortion activists and several MPs who raised concerns about late-term and sex-selective abortions, conscientious objection and the way the bill was introduced.
Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce, and former prime minister Tony Abbott were both outspoken in their opposition of the bill.
Joyce described it as the 'slavery debate of our time,' while Abbott accused the NSW government of putting forward 'the most radical abortion laws in this country.'
Liberal and Labor MPs were allowed a conscience vote on the bill.
Tensions in the government reached a climax last week when Liberal MPs Tanya Davies, Mathew Mason-Cox and Lou Amato said they would move a leadership spill motion against Premier Gladys Berejiklian over her handling of the bill.
The rebel MPs, who ultimately withdrew the motion, said it had been made clear that 'at an absolute minimum' four key amendments were required to ensure continued Liberal Party membership.
Ms Davies on Thursday supported amendments made to the bill, saying they created more safeguards and brought the bill to a better place.
Abortions after 22 weeks are allowed with the approval of two 'specialist medical practitioners.'
All terminations after 22 weeks will now have to be performed in a public hospital.
'Many of us within the Parliament, and also outside in our communities, had concerns with the original bill ... concessions, amendments, changes to the original bill were moved through both houses of Parliament and that is a good thing,' she said.
The legislation that passed on Thursday is more conservative than the initial bill that Greenwich introduced after changes were made following opposition.
Labor MP Penny Sharpe, who is one of 15 co-sponsors of the bill, on Wednesday night said the vote was 119 years in the making.
'The current law has meant women and doctors have a threat of 10 years in jail for making this decision and that not okay,' she told parliament. 'This is a massive step forward for women in this state.'