Abortion rights long overdue say women's health experts

150 people packed Glebe Town Hall to launch Mehreen Faruqi’s decriminalisation of abortion bill.

There's a “huge appetite” for abortion law reform, Greens MLC Dr Mehreen Faruqi told a 150-strong meeting at the Glebe Town Hall on June 6. “We've waited far too long already,” she said.

The meeting was organised to launch Faruqi's decriminalisation of abortion bill, which is in its draft stage. The panelists included health professionals Philippa Ramsay and Juliet Richters, health laywer Julie Hamblin and Bethany Sheehan, a founder of My Body My Right, a group campaigning for a safe space outside abortion clinics.

Faruqi noted that she was motivated by the plight of women living in remote and rural areas who could not easily access abortion services. NSW is lagging behind Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT, she said, which had all taken abortion out of the criminal codes. One-third of women will need to access abortion services in their lifetimes.

“We need to bring our laws out of the 19th century. They must reflect current practice. It's 2016 — abortion should not be a crime in this state.”

Faruqi said that the bill is being drafted in gender neutral language in recognition of people of diverse genders who do, and will, need access to abortion services.

Faruqi paid tribute to independent Queensland MP Rob Pyne who has introduced a similar bill to remove abortion from the Queensland Crimes Act. There, Labor has a policy of supporting the right to abortion, but did not move to remove it from the Act when in government.

Ramsay talked about the real life circumstances of people being denied their health rights, how women live in fear of the treatment, about delays in treatment and how the law makes them feel as if they are criminals.

Currently in NSW, not one public hospital offers abortions. One clinic, Marie Stopes, offers abortions only under 9 weeks' gestation and for the hefty price of $560. “Why is the conscience of doctors and politicians more important than the women concerned?” Ramsay asked.

She said that while it was hard to get accurate statistics, given the procedure's illegality, between one-fifth and half of women will have an abortion at some time in their life. “And we are not all criminals,” she said to applause.

Several women in discussion told of their horrendous experiences trying to access abortions in the 1960s and 1970s and reiterated that law reform was well overdue. Long-term campaigners from the Women's Abortion Action Campaign talked about the long campaign for access. There was also some discussion, although no firm plan, about the need for an extra-parliamentary campaign if this bill is to get the required support in parliament.

The campaign to support Faruqi's bill is called “End 12” — the clause in the NSW Crimes Actthat makes the procedure illegal.

To view the bill and find out more visit the website.

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