Hundreds of people joined in pro-life protests and a three-day prayer vigil being simultaneously held at the NSW Parliament House and St Mary’s Cathedral as debate opened on a bill to decriminalise abortion in the Legislative Assembly on 6 August.
A rushed inquiry will be held into the bill next week, carried out by the Parliament’s social issues committee chaired by Liberal MLC Shayne Mallard.
On Macquarie Street outside Parliament House the mood was buoyant among the crowd who held signs reading ‘Choose life’ and ‘Love them both’ flanked by white balloons, from midday 5 August until late at night.
Some chose to remain through the night with around 100 young people still chanting pro-life slogans at 10pm.
Earlier in the evening Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP, the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney, Dr Glenn Davies and other faith leaders joined the protest and encouraged the crowd, many of them young people.
“Together we must do all we can to stand for life and reject a bill which panders to the abortion industry in NSW,” Archbishop Fisher later said on social media.
At 8am on 6 August and as workers began to arrive into the city, they had to call for reinforcements as large numbers of pro-abortion protesters arrived and surrounded the group, preventing reporters from accessing them and playing music to drown them out.
Debate in the Lower House opened at 12.30pm on 6 August with the state’s Health Minister Brad Hazzard arguing that NSW should follow the country’s other jurisdictions in decriminalising abortion.
While the fact the bill allowed for late-term abortion caused “soul searching and genuine anguish” among some of his colleagues Mr Hazzard still defended the 22 week’s threshold of abortion-on-demand.
Liberal member for Riverstone Kevin Conolly was the first to speak against the bill, saying that support for the unborn child is the only rational response to advances in science and medicine and that the rush to bring the bill to Parliament did not allow the community to voice its views.
“This will allow more abortions to occur including late-term abortions,” he said. “I do not believe there is public support for that, and the community only just now has the opportunity to inform their representatives of their views.
“This bill is not about decriminalisation of abortion, it is about expansion of abortion…and obligation for doctors opposed to abortion to act against their own conscience.
“Doctors should not be forced to participate in ending the life of their patient.”
The “very significant bill” was introduced to this house with the minimum possible notice, he said, and quoted from the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which states that “Every human being has the inherent right to life”.
The evening before, holding up a giant Vigil for Life banner Dr Richard Lennon, a Sydney medical doctor, said the proposed legislation would create “a lot of Israel Foleau situations in the medical world”.
“Similar law is in existence in Victoria where one doctor has been brought before the medical board and warned because he refused to do a sex-selection abortion,” he said.
Dr Lennon said he was concerned about the absence of protection for medical professionals who had a conscientious objection to abortion. “To send someone off to have an abortion is just as bad as doing it oneself,” he said.
“As a doctor what I want to do is to offer them support and the best medical care I can. But abortion is none of that, it is anti-health and anti-medicine.”
Martin Habib, youth co-ordinator at Christ the Redeemer Maronite Parish of the Hills District, had been at the rally from its beginning at midday 5 August until midnight and returned to it at 7.30am.
“It’s not really that much effort, and it’s worth it,” he said. “It’s beautiful to stand united with these people. Society is regressing so quickly at the moment.
If we don’t stand up for what we believe in everything we value will be taken away.”
The vigil for life organised by NSW Right to Life will continue until midnight tonight, while a 65-hour Eucharist Adoration to pray for the unborn called by Archbishop Anthony Fisher and also drawing hundreds of the faithful will continue until 6.30am on Thursday.
A peaceful protest was also held on 5 August outside the Willoughby office of NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, who supports the bill.
Organiser Tiana Legge, CEO of Women and Babies Support, said that no women who has ever obtained an abortion in NSW has ever been imprisoned or penalised under the current law, and questioned why there was a perceived need to change it.
“Why the push to bring a law in that does not improve protections for women than the law we already have?” she said.