Politics

The NSW Lower House Just Voted To Decriminalise Abortion

It's a massive step forward for abortion rights in the state.

abortion

The lower house of NSW Parliament just voted 59-31 in favour of a bill that would decriminalise abortion, in a huge step forward for abortion rights in the state.

The bill passed the lower house just before 11pm last night following two days of emotional debate, with MPs on both sides sharing impassioned arguments. The upper house will debate the bill in coming days.

For an abortion rights bill to simply pass one house of NSW Parliament is a huge deal, though — abortion has been a crime in NSW for 119 years, and all previous attempts to change that have failed. Just two years ago, the NSW Upper House voted against a similar attempt to decriminalise abortion.

The bill passed yesterday was introduced by Independent MP Alex Greenwich, and was drafted with the input of a cross-party working group including Labor’s Penny Sharpe and Jo Haylen, the Nationals’ Trevor Khan, and Minister for Health Brad Hazzard. It aims to treat abortion as a health issue rather than a crime, and makes abortions accessible on request up to 22 weeks into a pregnancy. Late term abortions will also be available if two doctors believe the procedure is necessary.

Throughout the debate, MPs speaking in support of the bill appealed to their colleagues to trust women to make the decision to have an abortion for themselves. “The sound of men arguing over our personal reproductive health choices hurts my ears, and it offends my very core,” said Greens MP Jenny Leong, who shared her own personal experience of abortion during the debate.

“I have one simple message: if you don’t like abortions, don’t have an abortion.”

Supporters of the bill shared the stories of women who have struggled to access abortion services after experiencing rape, domestic violence, poverty or serious health conditions. They pointed out that women and doctors can and should be trusted to make decisions about healthcare, and argued that Parliament should not stand in the way of that decision.

They also pointed out that NSW is in fact the last Australian state where abortion remains a crime: every other state has moved to decriminalise abortion in recent years.

Opponents of the bill cited religious beliefs, concerns about the rights of foetuses, and concerns that the bill had been “rushed” to Parliament. The bill’s sponsors argued that the bill was brought to Parliament in an appropriate amount of time, especially given that it is largely based on well-known laws already passed in Queensland and Victoria.

A number of amendments were made to the original bill, including one that will require doctors to receive “informed consent” before performing an abortion, and also to consider whether a woman seeking an abortion required counselling. The Australian Medical Association slammed the amendments, calling them a “perversion” of the original bill.

While abortion is currently a crime in NSW, terminations have been available in certain circumstances for a number of years. Last year, NSW Parliament voted to establish 150-metre safe access zones around abortion clinics in the state, banning protesters from harassing people entering that space.

If yesterday’s abortion decriminalisation bill goes on to pass the upper house, it will remove further barriers to abortion services for people in NSW. We’ll keep you posted on how it goes.