The misogynist Fred Nile has opportunistically seized the moment — provided by Tanya Davies, the new NSW “pro-life” minister for women — to reintroduce a bill to give foetuses legal rights.
Nile, a NSW MLC, introduced the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2017 on March 9. The wording is the same as his last attempt.
Nile first tried to push his anti-choice law in 2010. He managed to get it through the Legislative Assembly in 2013 (63 votes to 26) with Davies’ support.
Davies and Nile believe women cannot be trusted to make important decisions about their bodies. Davies described the foetal personhood bill at the time as being “about protecting the rights of women to carry their child to full term”.
This is confusing because there is no law that endangers a woman’s right to carry a pregnancy to full term.
There is, however, a law that potentially criminalises women and their doctors. This is because abortion is still, legally, a crime in NSW: division 12 of the Crimes Act (sections 82, 83 and 84) criminalises a woman’s attempt to procure abortion with jail sentences of up to 10 years. Doctors who attempt to provide an abortion can be sent to jail for 10 years.
In a speech to the NSW Legislative Assembly in May 2013, Davies said: “I believe that human life begins at conception; a life that wherever possible should be nurtured to fulfil his or her full destiny.” Last year, Davies thanked Nile for “upholding the Judeo-Christian values of our society”.
But the bill eventually lapsed in November 2014 due to a lack of support. In November 2015, Nile reintroduced the Crimes Amendment (Zoe’s Law) Bill 2015.
The NSW Law Society, the Australia Medical Association, the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists and the NSW Greens have warned against support for any law that gives foetuses personhood rights. Their concerns include the legal ambiguity it would create and women not being able to access abortion.
Nowhere in Australia does a foetus have a separate legal status to that of a woman.
The Crimes Act recognises grievous bodily harm to a pregnant woman if her foetus dies as a result of assault or violence committed against her. The maximum sentence is 25 years’ jail.
Nile’s bill wants to “establish a separate offence for conduct causing serious harm to or the destruction of a child in utero”. It also wants to “extend the offence of dangerous driving causing death or grievous bodily harm to dangerous driving causing the destruction of, or serious harm to, a child in utero”.
The maximum penalty would be 10 years’ jail.
According to a submission by the NSW Law Society to the 2103 version of the foetal personhood bill, “The criminal law currently provides properly for circumstances where criminal incidents involve the death of or harm to an unborn child and that there is no need for the legislation proposed.”
Importantly, it also said: “It would be very difficult to resist the application of this new concept to other areas of the law such as murder and manslaughter.”
Nile’s push to grant foetuses rights over women makes the issue of removing abortion from the Crimes Act in NSW even more urgent.
Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi’s private members’ bill to remove abortion from the Crimes Act which was introduced in 2016, should be supported by all those who want to make it harder for Nile and his misogynist cohort to succeed.