Politics

NSW Could Decriminalise Abortion In The Next Few Weeks. Here’s What You Need To Know.

About time.

abortion

This week, a bill to decriminalise abortion will be introduced to NSW Parliament. We’ve been here before, but this time it looks likely that the legislation will actually pass. It’s about time.

The Reproductive Health Reform Bill 2019, introduced by Independent MP Alex Greenwich, aims to treat abortion as a health issue rather than a crime. The bill has support from a number of key MPs from both major parties, and was drafted by a cross-party group including Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Jo Haylen, the Nationals’ Trevor Khan, and Minister for Health Brad Hazzard.

The involvement of that cross-party working group means this bill is more likely to pass than previous attempts to decriminalise abortion. If successful, the bill will make terminations available on request up to 22 weeks of pregnancy. It will also be possible to have a legal abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy, with the support of two doctors.

Abortion has been a crime in NSW since 1900, punishable by up to ten years in jail. The only way you can access an abortion in NSW is with the approval of a doctor who believes the procedure is “necessary to preserve the woman involved from serious danger to her life or physical or mental health”. It’s past time we removed that barrier.

As Alex Greenwich said earlier today, “currently, abortion is in the Crimes Act, and that’s not acceptable for women or for doctors.”

Didn’t We Try Decriminalising Abortion In NSW Already?

Back in 2017, Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi introduced a bill that would have removed abortion from the Crimes Act, but Parliament voted against it.

A lot has changed since 2017, however. In October 2018, Queensland Parliament voted to decriminalise abortion, leaving New South Wales as the only Australian state not to have done so. And in June last year, NSW Parliament voted to introduce safe access zones around abortion clinics, banning protesters within 150 metres of a clinic.

The decriminalisation bill being introduced this week is based on the Queensland bill, which was the result of a long process of legal recommendations, as well as laws in Victoria. The new bill will create the Reproductive Healthcare Act, which will set out clear legal guidelines about when abortion is legal, giving healthcare providers and people seeking abortions clarity about their options. The Act will also include conscientious objection provisions for healthcare practitioners who do not wish to provide abortions, and will make it a crime for an unqualified person to conduct abortions.

By including all of those considerations, the bill aims to address lots of common concerns that were voiced by opponents of decriminalisation last time around. And while nothing is guaranteed, Greenwich says that so far the bill has a fair amount of support from across the political divide.

“I have been speaking to a number of my colleagues across the Parliament, today and over the past week,” Greenwich said today. “Members are actually surprised that we still have the termination of pregnancy in the Crimes Act, and that it is not treated or regulated as a medical procedure.”

“Members are concerned and embarrassed that NSW is the last state to deal with this, and our neighbouring states have already moved forward to decriminalise abortion.”

Greenwich aims to introduce the bill to Parliament this week, which means it could be passed in the next fortnight. We’ll keep you posted on what happens.