New NSW bill to threaten reproductive rights

Pro-choice rally in Brisbane, 2010. Photo: prochoiceactionqld.org.

Pro-choice activists fear that a new bill, soon to go to NSW parliament, will pose a threat to women’s reproductive rights. “Zoe’s law” will create a new offence that recognises crime or harm against a foetus.

The Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2013 No. 2 was introduced by Liberal MP Chris Spence. It is named after the stillborn daughter of Brodie Donegan, who was 32-weeks pregnant when she was hit by a car on Christmas day in 2009 near Ourimbah on the central coast. Donegan suffered severe injuries and an emergency caesarean was too late to save the foetus.

Long-term pro-choice campaigner Margaret Kirkby says the bill creates a new offence — grievous bodily harm to a foetus — by drawing a distinction between pregnancy before 20 weeks and pregnancy after 20 weeks.

“The Bill defines an ‘unborn child’ as ‘the foetus of a pregnant woman that is of at least 20 weeks’ gestation or if this cannot be reliably established, a foetus with a body mass of at least 400 grams’,” Kirkby said in New Matilda on September 10.

Women’s rights campaigners say the crimes act already covers all criminal acts involving the destruction of a foetus. A 2010 review by a panel of legal experts concluded that there was no reason to change the law, or create a new offence that recognised a separate crime against a foetus. This view was supported by the NSW Bar Association, the Australian Medical Association and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

Kirkby, Lynn Muir and Christine Smith from the Women’s Action Abortion Campaign, said in New Matilda that if the bill becomes law: “It will open up avenues for women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or foetal harm as a result of a criminal act to be legally persecuted by anti-abortion organisations, or even aggrieved former partners.

“At the very least, it will introduce the real risk of unwanted and invasive scrutiny of individual women by social workers, police, medical staff and even private individuals.

“Potentially, this law will provide an avenue through which those with anti-abortion sentiments can interfere in a woman’s life.”

Greens MP Mehreen Faruqi is also campaigning against the bill. She told the Sydney Morning Herald on June 30: “This bill clearly gives the foetus a personhood status and seems to be a wedge for the anti-abortion lobby.”

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