Monica Doumit: No show a sign of disrespect

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Protesters from either side of the abortion debate face off on Macquarie Street in front of NSW Parliament House on 5 August. PHOTO: Giovanni Portelli

Anyone who has seen the film The Passion of the Christ will recall the brutal scourging scene, which lasts for some six-and-a-half minutes. Less than halfway through the scourging, the chief priests who had called for Jesus’ punishment walk away; the gravity of their actions is too awful for them to stay and watch.

That scene came to mind this week when I read that the Premier, Gladys Berejiklian, was absent from the chamber when the abortion decriminalisation bill was passed through the Legislative Assembly on Thursday morning last week.

Asked by media why she was not present for the vote, the Premier said: “I had to run the state. And if there was a vote, I would have been there. But to be honest my first priority is to run New South Wales.”

Really? The vote was over in a matter of seconds and the Premier was too busy “running the state” that she couldn’t step out of her office and walk to the chamber to participate?

Could it be that, like the chief priests in the film, she actually wanted to shield her face from the brutality in which she played a key role?

Pressed on the matter further, the Premier continued: “I get up every morning working my guts out for the people of this great state … they expect me to prioritise what needs to happen in relation to infrastructure project services and I’ve got to keep focused on my job.”

Actually, the people of this great state expect the Premier to first be a leader, not an administrator. A big part of leadership is bearing witness to key events in the history of the state, particularly those which – by commission or omission – the leader has played such a key role. The passing of the Bill was described as “historic” and it certainly was.

As Archbishop Fisher commented following the passage of the law, it is perhaps the worst law to have passed through parliament in the history of NSW.

So yes, the Premier should have been present for this “historic” occasion. [As an aside, the Premier didn’t seem to mind when members of her cabinet, such as the Transport Minister, diverted attention from “infrastructure project services” to be so involved in the passage of this Bill.]

The Premier’s failure to show up disrespected the tens of thousands who did “show up” over the past months. Photo: Giovanni Portelli
The Premier’s failure to show up disrespected the tens of thousands who did “show up” over the past months. Photo: Giovanni Portelli

To be frank, the Premier’s failure to show up was a sign of disrespect, particularly to the tens of thousands of people who did “show up” over the past couple of months by attending rallies, keeping vigil inside and outside parliament and inside St Mary’s Cathedral.

This issue was obviously important to them and so deserved more than a dismissal from their leader.

But anyway, it’s done now. And NSW has a law that deems abortion, even up until birth, to be a medical procedure.

While there were some amendments passed, they can best be described as “lipstick on a pig.”

Late-term abortions are still permitted for social reasons, it’s just that instead of a medical practitioner believing that the late-term abortion “should be performed,” they now have to believe there are “sufficient grounds for the termination to be performed.”

The change is stylistic, not substantive.

Another change is that the law makes it clear that when considering a late-term abortion, the medical practitioner is permitted to ask for advice from a hospital advisory committee, but they are not obliged to. Big deal.

In terms of counselling, a medical practitioner is now required to “assess whether or not it would be helpful to discuss with the person accessing counselling about the proposed termination,” and – if they make the assessment – to provide them with information about counselling.

Who wants odds that an abortionist is going to add an additional step of offering counselling into their routine practice? Giving the abortionist discretion about counselling does not provide women with any meaningful support.

It is also worth noting that while the abortionist is given the option on whether to provide information about counselling or not, the doctor with a conscientious objection is forced to hand over information about abortion. It is a strange world when the conscience rights of abortionists are prioritised in our laws.

And finally, in terms of babies born alive from abortion, nothing in this new law prohibits them from providing the baby with medical care. Nothing requires it either. This is another tokenistic amendment that won’t make babies any safer. Lipstick on a pig.

Please don’t take my providing of a fair picture of these amendments to be a criticism of those who fought so valiantly to get them passed. Many of our parliamentarians, including Tanya Davies, Kevin Conolly, Greg Donnelly, the Reverend Fred Nile, Natasha McLaren-Jones, Courtney Houssos, Scott Farlow, Matthew Mason-Cox and Damian Tudehope backed amendments that would have made a real difference for women and children, and their efforts were opposed and ridiculed at every point.

Even though it was obvious they were going to lose many of the amendments they put forward, they did so anyway, because they – unlike others – realise that there is a great importance in showing up and bearing witness. And they should be applauded for it.

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