Protesters outside NSW parliament. Picture: AFP
Protesters outside NSW parliament. Picture: AFP

Protests as abortion debate starts

THE New South Wales Health Minister has urged his colleagues to back a bill decriminalising abortion in the state to "right a wrong" enacted in law more than 100 years ago.

Brad Hazzard kicked off debate on the bill in the state's parliament today. It would allow for pregnancies to be terminated up until 22 weeks, and allow for abortions later than that with the approval of two doctors.

The bill is co-sponsored by 15 MPs spanning all sides of politics. Mr Hazzard, who is one of those sponsors, said it was an important and overdue reform of a law enacted when all legislators were men.

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," he said.

NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard. Picture: AAP
NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard. Picture: AAP

Coalition and Labor MPs are being given a conscience vote on the bill, which has the support of Premier Gladys Berejiklian, Transport Minister Andrew Constance and opposition treasury spokesman Walt Secord, among many others.

Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Finance Minister Damien Tudehope and Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly lead the opposition.

Mr Hazzard told parliament he respected each person's right to their own opinion but said "as legislators, our role is to govern for the whole population of NSW".

He noted concerns about late-term abortions, but said the bill had a stricter provision than currently existed in NSW.

"I absolutely refute the spurious arguments being put around about abortion up until the day of birth, for no reason at all," Mr Hazzard said.

"Doctors have ethical and professional obligations that ensure they will not facilitate late-term abortions unless there is a compelling, clinical need."

Anti-abortion and pro-choice groups clashed outside parliament earlier in the day.

Dozens of anti-abortion activists held up signs reading "women deserve better than abortion", "abortion is murder" and "choose life".

They were sandwiched between hundreds of supporters of the bill.

Labor's families spokeswoman Penny Sharpe was among the MPs who addressed the large pro-choice crowd, who held up signs saying "mind your own uterus" and "trust women".

"Women in NSW are not criminals for making decisions about their own bodies," Ms Sharpe said, while thanking those who've shared stories about abortions, including via the #arrestus online campaign.

Sydney's Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher and Anglican Archbishop Glenn Davis wrote an open letter on Monday declaring NSW was "on the edge of a precipice".

"(The bill) not only allows for abortion up until 22 weeks for any reason ... it also allows for abortion for any reason even up until birth provided that two doctors agree," they wrote.

In contrast, Uniting Church Reverend Simon Hansford backed the bill on the weekend.

"When abortion is practised indiscriminately it damages respect for human life," he wrote in an open letter to parliamentarians.

"However, we live in a broken world, where people face difficult decisions. Respect for the sacredness of life means advocating for the needs of women as well as every unborn child."