Supporters of the right to choose are pulling out all stops against the religious right’s attempts to derail a broadly sponsored abortion decriminalisation bill before New South Wales parliament.
The campaign will culminate in a mass pro-choice rally on September 14, just days before the bill returns to the Legislative Council.
NSW Greens MLA for Newtown Jenny Leong told Green Left Weekly that, just as the bill to decriminalise abortion went through the Legislative Assembly with “strong support”, the numbers are “equally strong in the upper house — reflecting the views of the community”.
But the anti-choice brigade, aided by a handful of zealous anti-abortion Liberal MPs, is seeking to sabotage the bill.
Former minister for women Tanya Davies and Liberal MLA Kevin Connolly have announced they intend to quit the Coalition if restrictive amendments to the bill are not passed. If they do, the NSW Coalition will lose its two-seat majority.
Because the anti-choice lobby is cashed up it has a significant platform. Factually incorrect op-eds are appearing in major news outlets. Flyers asking “When is it Ok to kill a human being” are being letterboxed in Sydney’s inner east. Anti-choice skywriting has been spotted over Sydney. Anti-choice Liberals are also planning to force a state council meeting to condemn the bill.
Independent MLA Alex Greenwich’s private members’ bill passed the lower house on August 8 by 59 to 31, with 19 Liberal MLAs in favour and 16 against. Five out of six Nationals voted in support.
However, seven unnecessary amendments were passed, including one that demands doctors receive “informed consent” from the person seeking an abortion.
The extremists know there is broad support to treat abortion as a health issue, so their focus has been on derailing the bill with amendments to make access more restrictive.
If amendments are passed the bill has to go back to the lower house — giving anti-choice MLAs another opportunity to push for further amendments.
Medical and legal professionals, as well as feminist organisations, have repeatedly said that no amendments are necessary.
Pro-Choice NSW co-convenor Georgia Potter-Butler told GLW that the amendments are designed “to delay and obfuscate”.
“Most of the amendments [going to the upper house] were [already] put up in the lower house — and did not get support.
“The amendments put forward are all designed to place onerous and, in some cases, completely unworkable restrictions on a person’s right to choose.
“The bill, as it stands, is modelled on legislation currently in place in other states and does not require amendments.”
Leong affirmed that attempts to amend the bill are “politically motivated”. “We cannot let those who are fundamentally anti-choice dictate the rules for how women and people in this state can access reproductive health care,” she said.
Anti-choice MPs are expected to push for: more oversight on those seeking an abortion after 22 weeks; removing the requirement for doctors with a contentious objection to refer a patient on; and new restrictions on sex-selection abortions.
The latter has become an obsession for the anti-choice lobby, who argue that sex-selective abortions are routine among particular migrant communities.
But researchers at LaTrobe University say they have been misquoted and that there is no conclusive evidence that female foetuses are being aborted due to their sex.
If sex-selective abortions were routine, the data would show a skewing of the sex ratio at birth, something that is not visible in the recent census figures.
Furthermore, abortion providers such as Dr Kamala Emanuel argue that if gender-biased sex-selection abortions were a major problem, then those most at risk of coercion into abortion should be supported, not penalised.
Emanuel told GLW: “The best way of challenging and transforming the culture of ‘son preference’ is to support efforts by younger generations of affected communities.
“This cannot be done by decree.”
The law “should not be an obstacle to pregnant people making the best decision for themselves”, said Emanuel. “There was already more than enough medical oversight in place in the first draft of the bill.
“My fear is that NSW MPs decriminalise abortion, but increase the barriers to access because of some parliamentary horse-trading in the upper house.
“If the state can override the decision of the pregnant person in one instance, it undermines the central contention that the decision to continue or terminate a pregnancy belongs to the pregnant person.”