After long, bitter road, NSW decriminalises abortion

After one of the longest debates in the state’s history, the NSW parliament has passed controversial legislation decriminalising abortion – the last jurisdiction in Australia to do so.

Many MPs, including Alex Greenwich, the Independent who introduced the bill, hugged and kissed each other after the Abortion Law Reform Act finally passed into law today (Thursday).

Trisha Doyle, MP for the Blue Mountains and the Shadow Minister for Women, told Hatch soon afterwards that the atmosphere in the Lower House chamber was “electric”. 

“The pent-up excitement and hope was expressed through a lot of tears dripping down people’s faces.”

Felicity Wilson, MP for North Shore, told Hatch: “We’ve had 72 hours of debate on this bill.” Wilson, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said women had been waiting for legislative change for more than a century.

Carolyn O’Loughlin, lone anti-abortion protester outside the NSW Parliament (Photo: Ankita Sharma)

The bill was introduced in April, triggering a protracted and at times bitter debate. Emotions peaked last week, when three anti-abortion Liberal MPs threatened a leadership spill motion against NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian – then backed down.

The legislation, which decriminalises abortions up to 22 weeks, was also staunchly opposed by religious and “pro-life” groups. They have staged a series of noisy rallies outside Parliament House in recent months. The pro-reform movement has also held rallies.

After 22 weeks, women require the approval of two doctors to obtain an abortion.

Amendments to the original bill, passed by the Upper House on Wednesday night, included outlawing abortions based on gender selection and protection for doctors who conscientiously object to participating in abortion.

Today there was just one anti-abortion protester outside Parliament House, wielding a placard. Carolyn O’Loughlin, who described herself as “a voice for the voiceless”, said: “If it goes through, I will be yelling ‘shame’.”

She condemned “deceitful Gladys [Berejiklian] and her co-conspirators” for supporting the bill.

Doyle said the passing of the bill signified “that we can trust women with decisions about their own reproductive needs”. She added:

“Abortion is not something that anybody likes, but it is a part of life and is a medical procedure. It’s not a crime.

Doyle said she herself had had a termination, and “it was a right choice for me at a time in my life”.

She had done it, “knowing that at that time I could have been prosecuted and the medical practitioner who performed the termination could have been prosecuted”. Many of her colleagues had received hate mail and threats over the law reform, which had been “harrowing”, she said.

Greenwich told the Sydney Morning Herald last week that the vitriolic phone calls and emails he had received were even worse than those sparked by the campaign to legalise same-sex marriage, which he also supported. – @zoedgrech