Foetal personhood bill still not passed in NSW


Debate on a dangerous bill that seeks to redefine when life begins was again suspended in the New South Wales Parliament on November 14.

The Crimes Amendment (Zoe's law) (No 2) bill, introduced in August, will be debated again in the legislative assembly on November 21. Doubts remain as to whether it will be voted on then, or deferred to next year.

The bill was introduced by Chris Spence, a former One Nation office holder, now Liberal MP for The Entrance. It seeks to amend the NSW Crimes Act to redefine life as beginning at 20 weeks’ gestation, or a foetus weighing more than 400 grams. If passed, this would be the first such law of its kind in Australia.

The major parties have given their MPs a conscience vote.

The Nationals, the Liberals and Labor are split. The Greens are voting against it because they see it as an unnecessary amendment and a threat to women's reproductive rights.

Of the eight MPs who spoke to the bill on November 14, five were against (one Liberal and four Labor). Three Liberal MPs spoke in favour of the bill.

Labor MP for Toongabbie and former NSW premier Nathan Rees said many organisations opposed the bill: the NSW Bar Association, the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Gynaecologists, medical insurance company MDA National, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, Family Planning NSW, Women's Health NSW, the Law Society of NSW, the Women Lawyers Association of NSW, Women's Electoral Lobby and Women's Legal Services NSW.

Rees said: “I find it difficult to ignore the weight of expert opinion opposed to this bill ... They believe the law as it stands is appropriate.”

He quoted Karen Willis, chief executive of Rape and Domestic Services Australia, who said: “The current act already gives police and the courts the power to act in such circumstances and as such we believe the current law is adequate. The proposed bill does not add anything to the protection of pregnant women and the foetus they are carrying but it does infringe on the reproductive rights and wellbeing of women.”

Rees said abortion in NSW is still a criminal offence and “while it can be carried out under certain circumstances, the status of abortion in New South Wales remains tenuous”.

“The Bar Association and the Australian Medical Association believe that this bill will have implications for late-term abortions.”

During the weeks of debate, several MPs have criticised Spence, the bill’s mover, for rushing it through without adequate consultation.

Rees said: “There is no similar statute under any Australian law, but we are progressing with the bill knowing it creates significant uncertainly, is not supported by experts and will replace a law that has been deemed appropriate by an expert review.”

Labor MP for Keira Ryan Park, Labor MP for Cessnock Clayton Barr and Labor MP for Canterbury Linda Burney also spoke against the bill.

Burney said: “It is not MPs’ role to determine when personhood begins.”

Liberal MP for Vaucluse Gabrielle Upton said that, as a Catholic and a lawyer, she was worried about the bill's “unintended consequences”.

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