There will never be a ‘perfect time’ to decriminalise abortion. It has to happen now


Source: The Guardian


Three years ago, New South Wales parliament came very close to legislating Zoe’s Law, a bill which would have given legal recognition to foetuses as living persons, completely independent from their mothers.

While it only ended up passing the lower house of parliament, Zoe’s Law was a rallying cry for the conservative and anti-abortion forces who still walk (or stalk) the halls of Macquarie Street. When I became an MP, Zoe’s Law was the first big challenge I took up. The bill was a sharp reminder for many women’s rights and social justice activists of the continuing legal criminality of abortion in New South Wales. Pregnancy terminations are permissible in the state only through the interpretation of case law. Abortion offences remain in sections 82-84 of the Crimes Act, where they have sat for more than a century.

In recent years, Tasmania, the ACT and Victoria have all moved to successfully decriminalise abortion. On each occasion, the moment was met with jubilation and relief. Sadly, the precarious legal nature of abortion in states where the procedure has not been decriminalised – such as New South Wales and Queensland – continues to have debilitating impacts on women and all those who seek abortions.

Just last week, it was widely reported that a 12-year-old girl was forced to go to the Queensland Supreme Court for permission to have an abortion. If it were any other procedure, all she would have needed, on top of her doctor’s approval, was parental consent. But under the regressive abortion laws of numerous Australian jurisdictions, we do not treat those who seek what can be a very difficult procedure with sensitivity and warmth; rather, we view them as worthy of only stigma and shame, silence and isolation. No one attempting to procure an abortion can escape this.

In September last year I launched a campaign for abortion law reform in New South Wales, after giving notice of the first ever New South Wales decriminalisation bill in 2014. I have been consulting with expert health and legal stakeholders and conducting community forums with a view to bring a bill to parliament that would decriminalise abortion in Australia’s most populous state, as well as enact safe access zones around abortion clinics so those people who need to use the services are free from harassment and intimidation.

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