Chanting “Not the church, not the state, women will decide our fate”, supporters of women’s right to choose gathered outside NSW parliament on November 15 to oppose conservative MLC Fred Nile’s third attempt to introduce a foetal personhood bill in the Legislative Assembly.
While Nile’s bill was introduced, it was not voted on. He intends to bring it back on November 22, the final sitting week of the current parliament.
Nile wants the NSW Crimes Act changed so that if someone causes harm or destruction to a foetus they would be charged with grievous bodily harm to the foetus. Under the Crimes Act, they can be charged with grievous bodily harm to the pregnant woman with additional penalties of up to 15 years jail for harming a foetus.
According to Women’s Legal Service (WLS), the law already provides for greater penalties to those who cause grievous bodily harm to pregnant women.
WLS warn that changing grievous bodily harm offences in law could lead to “unwanted and invasive scrutiny of individual women who have experienced miscarriage, stillbirth or foetal harm as a result of a criminal act”.
They say that even excluding medical procedures and “anything done by, or with the consent of, the mother of the child in utero” could be open to interpretation.
WLS said that is “extremely concerned” about the harm done to women and foetuses in situations of domestic violence. It acknowledges the pain and loss that follows harm or destruction to a foetus, however it “does not consider the new law is necessary or appropriate”. WLS believes the injury must always be interpreted as an injury to the pregnant woman.
NSW Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi’s message to the rally was that “legal foetal personhood is dangerous and unnecessary”.
Faruqi said: “This bill is yet another attempt to undermine the already tenuous legal rights we have over our bodies. This is an anti-choice attack on our right to choose.”
She called for NSW to “enshrine unambiguous legal and safe abortion rights” and for Nile’s bill “to be defeated in its entirety”.
“No matter what changes or tinkering around the edges happens through amendments, it is still a fundamentally flawed bill,” Faruqi said.
Basho Hazard from the Feminist Legal Clinic and Human Rights in Childbirth Association told the protest how foetal personhood laws have been used in US states to criminalise poor and immigrant women, as well as doctors and other health professionals who do not report “crimes” against foetuses.
Hazard said: “The shift of focus in this bill is from the body of the woman, who is … nurturing this pregnancy and who gets to be the voice of her body and her baby … to the rights of the foetuses.”
Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, Construction and General Division state president Rita Mallia said legalising reproductive rights for women in NSW was well overdue.
Paramedic Tess Oxley spoke of the horrors front-line health workers have to deal with when abortion remains a crime.
Young Labor activist Ana Somaratna and NSW Labor deputy leader Penny Sharpe also spoke.
[Follow the campaign on the Pro-Choice NSW Facebook page.]