Hundreds of pro-life protesters gathered to call on NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian to drop her support of the state’s abortion bill as the issue threatens to throw the Liberal party into minority government.
Liberal MPs Tanya Davies and Kevin Connolly addressed the 500-strong crowd who formed the protest outside the Liberal Party state council meeting held at the International Convention Centre in Darling Harbour on 7 September.
Both MPs say they will leave the party and move to the crossbench if they cannot secure significant amendments to the bill currently before the upper house, including the outlawing of sex-selection abortions.
“The feedback we’ve received is that the Premier is extremely unsettled at the moment,” said Right to Life NSW CEO Dr Rachel Carling, an organiser of Sydney’s peaceful pro-life protests held since the introduction of the private member’s bill on 1 August.
During the conference Ms Davies raised a motion for the party to condemn the bill, with 217 members voting for an urgent debate on it while 236 remained happy to let the bill run its course.
The result signals the crisis faced by the government over recent weeks as the issue threatens to tear the Liberal party apart. Opponents of the bill want to raise protection for women who are vulnerable to coercion to have an abortion, for babies and for medical professionals with a conscientious objection. All are missing in the current bill.
In addition the bill will allow for sex selection abortion, does not address what should happen if a baby survives an abortion, and allows for abortion up to birth with the sign-off of two doctors after considering the circumstances of the mother.
Ms Davies thanked supporters for their commitment and urged them to “keep fighting”.
“It’s crucially important that we raise awareness about what’s in the bill and what is missing in the bill,” she said.
“I understand this is a highly emotive issue. And it should be, it’s about life and death.”
“But in everything you do, in everything you say, and in how you conduct yourselves, it must be with the utmost respect, and tolerance and with a degree of kindness. Maintain your passion, maintain your standards of professionalism, and of respect because we have to communicate the absolute need to change this bill.”
Mr Connolly told the protesters his position as a loyal Liberal politician was now at risk.
“I don’t want to leave this Government,” he told them.
“But I’ve been placed in a position where my own side of politics have ambushed me and you and the community of NSW by bringing in at breakneck speed a bill they knew would outrage their own supporters, and as fast as possible because they wanted to get it over without them knowing or having a chance to speak.”
It was a “convenient fiction” that the bill was technically a private member’s bill, Mr Connolly added.
“This has been facilitated, enabled, endorsed supported and promoted by members of this government. That’s put me in a position where how can I continue to put my name to this government when this is what they do to their own, and to the people of NSW?
“What I want is for this bill to be withdrawn, and if we do have to have a debate about this subject let’s do it properly.”
Ms Carling praised Ms Davies and Mr Connolly for being “so brave”. “They have definitely put their careers on the line for this,” she told the Catholic Weekly.
A number of Labor MPs are also disquieted by the events of the last six weeks, with member for Bankstown Tania Mihailuk the most outspoken opponent of the abortion bill while member for Greenway Michelle Roland told media that her party’s pre-election promise to increase access to abortion caused “genuine anxiety” among people of faith.
Debate on the bill will open in the upper house on September 17.