NSW votes down bill to modernise abortion law

Today the NSW Upper House voted down a bill that would have brought the state’s abortion law in line with clinical practice and community standards, said the Human Rights Law Centre. The Legislative Council voted 14-25 against Greens member, Dr Mehreen Faruqi’s, Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016 that sought to decriminalise abortion and ensure safe access to clinics.

Emily Howie, Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, thanked Dr Faruqi for putting abortion on the political agenda and said that women and doctors should not risk jail time for procuring an abortion.

“In 2017 it is unbelievable that people are at risk of prosecution for their part in a medical procedure – yet that is the reality for women and doctors in NSW. The law here is hopelessly out of touch with clinical practice and community standards and must urgently be reformed,” said Ms Howie.

Ms Howie said that NSW and Queensland are the last two states in Australia to retain abortion as a crime at all stages of pregnancy. Abortion has been fully decriminalised in Victoria, ACT and Tasmania and partly decriminalised in WA, SA and the Northern Territory.

“It’s well past time for law reform in this state. NSW abortion law was passed in 1900 at a time when women did not enjoy the right to vote. NSW is lagging behind other states by retaining archaic laws that unfairly stigmatise and potentially criminalise women for choosing to terminate a pregnancy,” said Ms Howie.

NSW courts have ruled that abortion can be lawful in NSW, however the decision rests with a doctor. The doctor must believe on reasonable grounds that an abortion is necessary to avoid a serious danger to a woman’s life or her physical or mental health, and that the risks of the abortion are not out of proportion to the danger of continuing the pregnancy.

“It is simply unacceptable that doctors should make a decision about women’s access to a medical procedure – where else is this the case? Women are perfectly capable of making decisions about their own bodies and the law should not prevent that,” said Ms Howie.

Polls in NSW show that most people think women should be able to decide whether to have an abortion. More recent Polling released this year from Queensland shows more than 80% think that it should be legal for a woman, in consultation with a medical professional, to decide to terminate her pregnancy. 75% believe abortion should no longer be a criminal offence. Interestingly, 60% said they would be less likely to vote for an MP who supported criminalisation of abortion.

“Politicians should take note, as the tide has well and truly turned on this issue. It’s not a matter of if, but when the NSW parliament will reflect the values of its constituents. Today was not the end of this issue for women in NSW. It is high time that supporters of women’s rights from across the parliament joined together to work towards reform,” said Ms Howie.

For further comments or queries please contact:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519