Greens launch bill to treat abortion as a medical, not criminal, issue

Issue 

Greens MLC and spokesperson for women Mehreen Faruqi launched her bill to remove abortion from the NSW Crimes Act on September 28, International Day of Action for Access to Safe and Legal Abortion.

Faruqi said that there needed to be a campaign to “bust the myths surrounding abortion”.

“Many people do not even know that abortion still sits in the Crimes Act in NSW, until they need to make a decision about it”, she told a gathering of supporters in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD.

“There seems to be a real disconnect between what the law is, what people think it says and what people believe it should be.

“We also need to bust outdated laws that can criminalise women and doctors for a basic human right and a medical procedure,” she said.

Only in NSW and Queensland is abortion still illegal — in the Queensland Criminal Code under sections 224, 225 and 226 and in NSW in sections 82, 83 and 84 of the Crimes Act, with penalties of up to 10 years imprisonment for women, doctors and anyone who assists.

The abortion-related offences are contained in Division 12 of the NSW Crimes Act. This is why the campaign to decriminalise abortion has been called #end12.

All other states have liberalised their laws.

In NSW, the reason for this negligence is the lack of resolve to reform this antiquated part of the law — until now. For more than 30 years the NSW ALP, in and out of office, refused to push for any such reform, arguing that the 1971 ruling by Justice Levine allows for access to abortion and it is too risky to try to change that.

Justice Levine found in the district court that abortion was lawful in NSW on “any economic, social or medical ground or reason” that a doctor could determine was required to avoid a “serious danger to the pregnant woman's life or to her physical or mental health”.

Since then, however there have been several attempts to prosecute women and their abortion providers, revealing that unless the law is changed women, and their doctors, are still vulnerable.

Faruqi’s bill, notice of which was given on May 13, will also enact privacy zones around abortion clinics so that women are not harassed — still an issue in some cities and towns.

Greens deputy leader and spokesperson for women Senator Larissa Waters, medical student Josephine de Costa and NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon also spoke in support of the bill.

“How sad it is that we cannot say that in NSW — a wealthy, democratic state with access to a world class healthcare system — that we have secured this most basic right,” said Rhiannon.

“Nowhere in Australia do we comply with the legal and safety standards for abortion set by the United Nations and World Health Organization.

“It is a terrible indictment on our legal system and our government, which seriously lag behind on reproductive rights protections. We need to decriminalise abortion once and for all, and drag NSW into the 21st century.”

Polling by Lonergan Research, commissioned by the Greens and released on September 27, showed majority support for decriminalising abortion regardless of party affiliation — Liberal/National: 75%; Labor: 77%; Greens: 86%.

It also found that there was majority support among both men (71%) and women (75%), and across all age groups with support strongest among those aged over 65 (81%).

A comfortable majority of NSW residents (87%) believe women should be able to have an abortion, with more than half indicating that women should be able to obtain one at any time.

Overall, 73% supported the removal of abortion from the Crimes Act. People living in regional and rural NSW were more likely to have a view that abortion should be decriminalised (77%), compared to people in Sydney (70%).

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