There were cheers as the controversial bill to decriminalise abortion passed the NSW lower house. The bill to remove terminations from the state’s criminal code passed 59 votes to 31, but created a split within the Liberals with many of the party’s 35 MPs opposing the bill. The proposed laws will now be scrutinised by the Parliament’s social issues committee, before proceeding to a vote in the upper house where it is expected to pass. Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard supported the bill, but others including Attorney-General Mark Speakman, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet and Planning Minister Rob Stokes voted against the bill.
Now a coalition of upper house MPs from across minor parties have banded together in a plot to thwart the passage of the bill and will launch a fresh bid to prevent sex-selective terminations from being legalised. The gender selection issue has dominated the bruising debate for Premier Gladys Berejiklian and has trigged deep divisions in all parties. The issue is so contentious it has changed the stance of Shooters, Fishers & Farmers (SFF) MPs, who hold critical power in the upper house, who will now likely vote against the bill. Prior to the exposing of the gender-based abortion loophole, the SFF members had been supportive of the bill.
The abortion debate has now split the minor party, with three lower house Shooters MPs having supported it when it passed on Thursday night following three days of fiery debate. Sydney’s Catholic Archbishop Anthony Fisher has expressed his distress that an amendment to save the lives of babies that are born alive after an abortion attempt was not passed. “If a civilisation is to be judged by how it treats its weakest members, New South Wales has failed spectacularly,” he said. “Better proposed amendments, such as one to require that a baby born alive after a failed abortion be given lifesaving care, were defeated.”
In the US, 143 infants were born alive and died between 2003 and 2014 after attempted abortions, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Liberal MP and former minister for women Tanya Davies unsuccessfully moved a motion to require “termination not to be used for gender selection”. Instead, members agreed to an amendment by Nationals MP Leslie Williams noting disapproval of the practice. It requires the health ministry to review and report within 12 months. A number of minor party members in the upper house have vowed to revive the gender issues when the bill is before them on August 20.
Christian Democrat MLC Fred Nile is already discussing amendments with One Nation’s Mark Latham and several Liberal members, including a motion to prevent sex-selective abortion. Mr Nile said he would revive the motions that Ms Davies failed to get through the lower house, including reducing the threshold for restrictions of late-term abortions from 22 weeks to 20. “I think it’s very important to discourage women or families and husband or wife if they want to try and control whether they’re going to have girls or boys,” Mr Nile said. Shooters Party leader Robert Borsak said he was likely to oppose the legislation after he became concerned over the gender issues.
“I just won’t countenance any situation where there’s a chance for cultural reasons or other for potential parents to be selecting against a female,” Borsak said. “That’s an anathema to me and I don’t want that to happen.” He said he believed fellow Shooter MLC Mark Banasiak and Mr Latham would also not support the legislation. Labor MLC Courtney Houssos is also open to an amendment on sex-selective abortions. Nine upper house MPs have told The Daily Telegraph they will not support the bill. Independent MP Alex Greenwich, who originally moved the bill, said Ms Davies’ amendment was “hostile” and “poorly drafted”.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard said gender-selective abortion “should not happen”. “Not one Member of Parliament should think that there is any opportunity in this state for gender-selective abortion to occur,” he said. But he has been unable to point to a section of the bill that outlaws abortions based on gender. Other major amendments that were rejected included one that would have strengthened protections for women against coercion to abort, and a motion to allow health services to collect data on abortions to determine their frequency, with claims that it was unfair to asylum seekers who wouldn’t have a Medicare card.
Source: Compiled by APN from media reports