Final vote on NSW abortion bill today
THE NSW parliament is set to vote on a bill decriminalising abortion today after an impassioned debate from both sides of the issue.
Alex Greenwich, the MP who introduced the bill, will deliver his speech in reply this morning. Then the chamber will consider amendments, before a final vote.
Activists have gathered outside parliament throughout the week to protest both for and against the bill, which would make NSW the last state in the country to decriminalise abortion.
Inside, politicians have fiercely debated the bill since Tuesday.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard, who is one of 15 cross-party MPs sponsoring the legislation, spoke first. He said it was disturbing that the framework for abortion was still found in the state's Crimes Act.
"I ask all honourable members whether it is acceptable, whether it's conscionable, that in making this major life decision, women and their doctors have to do so with the threat of being charged with a criminal offence," Mr Hazzard said.
"I absolutely refute the spurious arguments being put around about abortion up until the day of birth, for no reason at all.
"Doctors have ethical and professional obligations that ensure they will not facilitate late-term abortions unless there is a compelling, clinical need."
He told his colleagues he respected each person's right to their own opinion, but "as legislators our role is to govern for the whole population of NSW".
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Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, who opposes the bill, said he wanted to speak "on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves".
"This debate has been framed around choice, and I agree. Today we have a choice set before us that goes to the core of who we are and who we want to be. A choice that will define us as a parliament, as a place and as a people. That choice is whether we recognise that the unborn also have human rights," Mr Perrottet said.
"Why is it when a child in the womb is wanted it is treated as a precious human life endowed with rights, but when it is not wanted it seemingly has no rights at all?
"The bill allows abortions to occur in very late stages of pregnancy, in circumstances where there is no medical need. That is not scaremongering. It is a matter of fact, not opinion, and is profoundly out of step with community expectations."
Greens MP Tamara Smith addressed people's concerns about late-term abortions.
"There has been fearmongering about late-term abortion by those opposed to this bill. They suggest that pregnant people would demand an abortion on a whim up to the day of birth. That is simply not realistic," said Ms Smith.
"In Australia, only 0.7 per cent of all terminations take place after 20 weeks. They are usually done due to complications, meaning that the foetus is not compatible with life, or in situations where due to difficult circumstances the pregnant person has not had access to suitable health care earlier in the pregnancy."
She said the bill would bring NSW law in line with community sentiment, citing figures showing 70 per cent of Australians believe abortion should be "readily available".
"Keep your hands off my uterus," she concluded.
Liberal Felicity Wilson echoed those sentiments.
"I am staunchly liberal. I believe fundamentally in the individual and their ability to make the best decisions for themselves in each unique situation they face. In the circumstance of abortion, the people best capable of making such a personal and impactful decision are the women themselves," Ms Wilson said.
"I find it particularly offensive to suggest that this is an easy decision for anyone or akin to contraception. I would hope that by decriminalising abortion there is an opportunity for us to reflect on these attitudes that some have towards women; to remove the stigma that women face and allow them to speak about their own medical procedures in the light of healthcare rather than a criminal offence."
Castle Hill MP Ray Williams said "many hundreds and hundreds" of people within his electorate had urged him to oppose the bill.
"There have been well and truly over 340 separate emails and phone calls to my office, and I have engaged with the vast majority of those particular people. I am yet to receive any messages from my community in support of the bill," he said.
Mr Williams said he agreed abortion should be removed from the Crimes Act but was concerned this particular bill did not acknowledge "the growing life of an unborn baby" or provide protections against late-term abortions.
"I understand there will be extreme cases where a woman may need to make that choice to have an abortion, but there seems to be a complete disregard within this bill for the life that is growing inside a woman," he said.
He grew emotional as he spoke about his brother Wayne, who was born with cerebral palsy and died at the age of two.
"Wayne's suffering was something that was seldom spoken about in our family. His very name immediately brought tears to my father's eyes. So in this extremely rare instance, my mother insisted that if she had known the suffering my brother was to endure, she would have had an abortion, thereby preventing his suffering.
"While my mother insisted it was a woman's choice to make, at the same time she would remind me that people have a responsibility not to bring unwanted children into this world.
"Relaxing the laws surrounding abortion, as this bill proposes, in my mind promotes a sense of apathy towards the responsibility that all sexually active people must bear.
"I believe the majority of people who are responsible for 80,000 abortions each and every year in this country have taken their responsibility too lightly, and many unborn babies suffer as a result."
Greens MP Jenny Leong provided the counterpoint to that argument, sharing her decision to get an abortion while travelling in London at the age of 20 and contrasting her fortunate circumstances to those of other women.
"I was in a privileged position. I was one of the lucky ones. I was free to make the choices that were right for me, with the privilege of the access to the healthcare and support that I needed to be able to make the right choices," she said.
"When you criminalise our reproductive choices, you prevent us from accessing the healthcare we need. You cause us harm. You disrespect us. You treat us as second-class citizens and you do not treat us as equals.
"We say to you that we have had enough."