Abortion bill amendment passes after vote

ATTORNEY-GENERAL Mark Speakman says he believes it is "quite immoral" to abort a baby on the basis of sex selection but said he personally can't stop this from happening.

It comes amid concern that proposed legislation to decriminalise abortion in NSW could lead to gender-selective terminations.

The Bill would currently allow abortion upon request from a registered doctor up to 22-weeks' gestation.

It also allows for abortions beyond 22-weeks if two doctors "consider that, in all the circumstances, the termination should be performed".

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said it was “quite immoral” to support an abortion on the basis of sex selection. Picture: AAP
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said it was “quite immoral” to support an abortion on the basis of sex selection. Picture: AAP


Specialist health lawyer Catherine Henry, who is chair of the Newcastle chapter of the Women Lawyer Association of NSW, said the Bill would allow a doctor to abort a female foetus on the basis of gender "if (they) formed the view that the abortion was required in all circumstances".

However, she noted late-term abortions are "extremely rare".

In an interview on Sky News, Mr Speakman said that if the Bill was carried in its current state "then basically a woman will be able to obtain an abortion below 22-weeks for any reason".

"Above 22-weeks it will require the consent of two doctors," he said.

"My understanding is that a common practice in hospitals that do these is that if there's an ethical issue it goes before an ethics committee or an advisory committee.

"I'd hope that if someone was seeking a late-term abortion for sex selection that it be knocked back.

"It absolutely does bother me from a moral view point - I'm someone who believes life begins well before birth, all life is precious, and it would be quite immoral to abort a baby on the basis of sex-selection ."

Asked whether he could prevent sex-selective abortions outside of the Bill, Mr Speakman said: "Probably not".

"At the end of the day it's a matter for what safeguards are in this Bill".

Mr Speakman has not yet decided whether he will support the legislation.

Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly speaks during amendments to the introduction to the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019. Picture: AAP
Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly speaks during amendments to the introduction to the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019. Picture: AAP

AMENDMENTS TO BE CONSIDERED

NSW MPs are voting on dozens of amendments to a historic Bill to decriminalise abortion across the state.

One of the most contentious amendments requiring a woman to give "informed consent" before a termination has been carried 49 votes to 41.

Mr Speakman moved the amendment, which was yesterday slammed as "unnecessary and insulting" by the Australian Medical Association NSW which claimed doctors do this already.

Mulgoa MP Tanya Davies put forward a motion to move the abortion threshold from 22-weeks gestation to 20-weeks.

However the motion was defeated 35 votes to 54 after it was opposed by Mr Hazzard and Mr Greenwich, who called it "one of the most dangerous and hostile amendments".

Police Minister David Elliott, who is opposed to the Bill, said he was disappointed but "heartened by the fact nearly two-thirds of Liberal MPs" supported the amendment.

Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly failed in his motion to send the Bill to a parliamentary inquiry, which was defeated 54 votes to 35.

Mr Greenwich, who introduced the legislation last week, this morning said the "vast majority" of people "support a woman's right to choose" during a reply speech following the conclusion of an "impassioned" debate.

He said 65 members had spoken in the lower house over the last two days.

However Premier Gladys Berejiklian was not among them with MPs slamming her decision as "gutless" and a "cop-out".

 

Independent MP Alex Greenwich says proposed amendments suggestion mandatory counselling for women seeking abortions are “offensive”. Picture: AAP
Independent MP Alex Greenwich says proposed amendments suggestion mandatory counselling for women seeking abortions are “offensive”. Picture: AAP

 

"(The Bill) is about women's right to appropriate healthcare," Mr Greenwich said.

"The need to end a pregnancy is a health matter, not a criminal matter, and the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill recognises this and removes abortions from the criminal code and regulates them as a medical procedure."

"The current framework is not appropriate - it threatens women, doctors and healthcare professionals and enshrines judgment and shame on women for personal and difficult choices."

 

Medical groups are concerned some of the amendments being proposed by conservative MPs are part of a "hysterical scare campaign".

Nationals MP Leslie Williams will move an amendment today to ease concerns around late-term abortions which will be backed by Health Minister Brad Hazzard - both are among 15 co-sponsors of the Bill.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian will not speak in the lower house. Picture: AAP
Premier Gladys Berejiklian will not speak in the lower house. Picture: AAP

Mr Greenwich said he would also support the amendment, which will require terminations after 22-weeks to take place in public hospitals.

However he said proposed amendments suggesting mandatory counselling for women before an abortion were "offensive".

Mr Hazzard had previously argued for no amendments but conceded some may be necessary to see the Bill passed.

"I wasn't keen on amendments but the value is it has been a very respectful debate generally and these sorts of debates often show the parliament at it's best because each individual members comes with their own experience," he said.

"If you come with open ears and open thoughts then there's always the possibility of amendments."

 

Health Minister Brad Hazzard will back an amendment by Nationals MP Leslie Williams. Picture: AAP
Health Minister Brad Hazzard will back an amendment by Nationals MP Leslie Williams. Picture: AAP

"My view as one of the co-sponsors is I would like to see the Bill and its intent approved by the Legislative Assembly but if there are some matters that can make it better then it's all good."

The abortion vote has divided the Liberal Party after Attorney-General Mark Speakman and Planning Minister Rob Stokes drafted eight amendments to water down the legislation, which was overseen by Mr Hazzard.

In addition to Mr Speakman and Stokes, other MPs drafting amendments to the Bill include Riverstone MP Kevin Conolly, Mulgoa MP Tanya Davies, Ku-ring-gai MP Alistair Henskens and Wagga Wagga MP Dr Joe McGirr.

Dr McGirr on Wednesday night tabled a conscientious objection amendment - which will be supported by Treasurer Dominic Perrottet - to remove the obligation for doctors to refer patients on to another medical practitioner if they object to an abortion.

A small group of anti-abortion protesters rally outside NSW state parliament. Picture: AAP
A small group of anti-abortion protesters rally outside NSW state parliament. Picture: AAP

Family Planning NSW chief executive Ann Brassil said some MPs were "attempting to impose some of the most extreme conditions in the country on the health of NSW women through a hysterical scare campaign".

The Bill would excise abortion from the state's 119-year-old criminal code and allow termination upon request from a registered doctor up to 22-weeks' gestation.

It also allows for abortions beyond 22-weeks if two doctors consent.

A vote is expected to take place in the Legislative Assembly today after the amendments have considered, while the Legislative Council will likely vote in a fortnight.



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