As a Member of Parliament I deal with all sorts of issues of concern to constituents in my area and a wide range of matters arising as legislation or policy affecting the state. While all of these are important to someone in the community, and deserve my attention and diligence as a result, few issues could genuinely be described as matters of “life and death”. The abortion bill is one.
When the bill was launched into Parliament last month I was both repulsed by the extreme nature of this anti-life bill and outraged at the manner in which it was introduced and propelled through the parliamentary process.
Why I went into politics
It forced me to question why I was in politics; why I was prepared to make the compromises inherent in being a member of a political party; what I wanted to achieve through my involvement and efforts; and whether it was worthwhile continuing.
My instinctive reaction was to do everything I possibly could to expose the false premise on which the bill is based and to prevent it from being passed. Even as I did so, I knew from the start that politics is a numbers game and the numbers were unlikely to align with me. Nevertheless I came to the realisation that standing up for life was so fundamentally important to a decent, civilised society that it would be worth doing even if victory was not achieved.
Further, I realised that it was more important for me personally to know that I had done all I could to defend life than it was for me to succeed at the next preselection, the next election or at any other political goal. I would only be a failure if I failed myself.
The bill purports to “decriminalise” abortion, as if we were reading in the papers every week of women and doctors being sent to jail over the issue. Clearly that’s not the case. Abortion has been deemed legal in NSW since 1971 and no woman or doctor who has abided by the common law rules set at that time has faced criminal penalty.
Those common law rules said that abortion was not unlawful if
(a) a doctor held a genuine belief based on reasonable grounds that
(b) an abortion was “necessary” to protect a woman from harm to her health, whether physical or mental; and
(c) the danger to be averted was proportional to the means used to avert it (ie. the abortion).
What the bill really does is to “repeal” the common law rules set in 1971. Ironically this means that abortion would no longer be linked to any “health” criterion, even though the bill is misleadingly named the Reproductive Health Care Reform bill.
The new regime would make abortion available for any reason or none. Up to 22 weeks any doctor can provide it. After 22 weeks, two doctors have to agree – but there is still no requirement for any reason at all. If there are two doctors in NSW who are as pro-abortion as Dr Philip Nitschke is pro-euthanasia, then those two could conduct abortions right up to birth perfectly legally under this bill. This is despite ample evidence that the community does not want to see late term abortions facilitated.
Such an approach can only be contemplated by denying the humanity of the unborn child altogether.
There is a litany of other horrors which stem from this basic premise.
- There is no prohibition on leaving a baby born alive after an attempted abortion to die.
- There is no ban on the sale of body parts or tissue from aborted human beings.
- There is no constraint of any kind against eugenics – ie. aborting on the basis of disabilities or unwanted characteristics.
- There is no ban on using abortion for gender selection.
Nor is there any genuine concern for women evident in this bill. The proponents of the bill fought hard to prevent a lower house amendment requiring “informed consent” from a woman before an abortion was performed. On that score at least, common sense prevailed and the amendment was carried.
But there was less success in attempting to ensure women seeking abortion had access to counselling. All that could be passed was an amendment to allow the doctor to decide whether or not to offer a woman counselling.
Voting down protections for girls and women
Even worse, an amendment to make it an offence to coerce a woman to have an abortion was defeated.
Insultingly, the bill doesn’t even talk about a woman, but about a “person who is pregnant”.
This is certainly not a pro-woman bill.
Finally, the bill contains a new obligation to be placed on doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion to facilitate the process by referring a woman to someone who will perform an abortion.
A fascist solution?
I view this as a fascist solution in search of a problem. Has anyone demonstrated a problem so severe and so urgent that it could only be solved by the extreme measure of forcing a person to act against his or her conscience? In fact to my knowledge no-one has presented any evidence that people cannot find abortion clinics in NSW if they want to.
In the upper house amendments will be moved to address all these crucial issues. These amendments are not distractions or filibusters but genuine attempts to retrieve some degree of humanity from an inherently bad bill. I sincerely hope that they are successful.
Kevin Conolly MLA is the Member for Riverstone.