Abortion would be decriminalised in NSW under a proposal to be put forward by the Greens and welcomed by health groups and advocates, who say NSW has some of the most restrictive laws in Australia.
Greens MLC Mehreen Faruqi will take the first step on Thursday to introducing a bill that would remove abortion from the Crimes Act entirely, by giving formal notice of her intention to the Parliament.
Ms Faruqi said she wanted to work with Liberal and Labor parliamentarians on the bill, which she said was the first to decriminalise abortion in NSW. However, one Labor MP has warned it could have unintended consequences if opponents amend it to further restrict abortion access.
Abortion now is a crime, although court decisions have established that it will not be found unlawful if a doctor believes it is necessary to save the woman from serious danger to her life, or mental or physical health. It is believed to be one of the more commonly performed medical procedures in Australia, at about 70,000 annually.
Ms Faruqi said getting the law through would not be easy, ”especially as many people are not even aware of the shaky status of the current law”.
”We don’t know yet if we are going to be able to get it through, but the recent debate about the foetal personhood laws show how much demand there is for this now,” she said.
A bill, known as ”Zoe’s Law”, which defines a 20-week-old foetus as a person is before the upper house after passing the lower house in a bill that saw parties vote along conscience lines.
Michael Moore, the chief executive of the Public Health Association of Australia, said abortion was a medical issue.
”The religious drivers in politics have for a long time placed this medical procedure in criminal law, but that is a complete anomaly,” he said.
”For women who have plenty of money and can travel it makes no difference … but for women who are less well-off, who have two or three children already and cannot move around easily, it creates very difficult circumstances.”
An obstetrician and gynaecologist from James Cook University and an abortion advocate, Caroline de Costa, said the present law left doctors to take on the criminal risk of deeming an abortion ”necessary”.
”It helps keep abortion as a separate area of women’s health, and women’s reproductive health, and it keeps it stigmatised,” she said.
She said abortion performed by a doctor is still controlled by criminal law in NSW and Queensland, but not in Victoria and Tasmania.
Labor shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said he believed the bill would be given a conscience vote by Labor. But he said: ”Once you let the cork out of the bottle”, there was a risk such a bill could be amended by opponents to restrict access further.
Labor health spokesman Andrew McDonald said while he was disappointed to not have more notice of the move, he would consider voting for it and would discuss it at Labor caucus.
”It’s a very fraught area, but it’s one where we would definitely look at the bill,” he said.
Health Minister Jillian Skinner declined to comment.