Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016

Mr DAVID SHOEBRIDGE ( 12:11 : 2 ): The Abortion Law Reform (Miscellaneous Acts Amendment) Bill 2016 should not be controversial. It is 2017. We have an obligation to give women full control over their reproductive rights and remove abortion from the Crimes Act. That is why I support this bill, and I am proud to associate myself with the words and work of my colleague Dr Mehreen Faruqi for bringing it to this House. At present, abortions are undertaken in New South Wales under medical guidance. This will not change with the passage of this bill; what will change is the need to rely on a legal fiction to make the procedure lawful.

It is very tempting to respond in detail to the inflammatory contribution of the Hon. Walt Secord, but in the context of this debate, I answer his comments by restating my strong support for the dignified, collegiate manner in which Dr Mehreen Faruqi has brought this bill to the House. It is offensive in the extreme to suggest that bringing one bill every century to assert women’s right to a safe and lawful abortion is an intemperate political act. Rather, I condemn the last 100 years of inaction. I also note that Dr Faruqi wrote to the Hon. Walt Secord in his capacity as shadow health Minister on 4 May 2016, more than 12 months ago, providing the draft exposure bill to him and inviting collaboration in achieving reform. Many other members of this House would have received similar communications from Dr Mehreen Faruqi. It is unfortunate that Dr Mehreen Faruqi did not receive a substantive response from the member.

For too many years men have the majority of seats in Parliaments such as this and made laws about women’s bodies, women’s rights and women’s choices. Today is an opportunity to remove a relic from the law and in doing so support women’s right to choose. Today is a day for male MPs in this place to listen to the contributions of our strong female colleagues, such as Dr Mehreen Faruqi, Ms Dawn Walker, the Hon. Lynda Voltz and the Hon. Penny Sharpe. I have listened and I will respond in kind. It should not be a crime to seek and receive medical assistance or indeed to render it.

Opponents of this bill, and indeed a number of members who say they support it, have criticised the bill because, in removing abortion from the Crimes Act, the bill does not create a parallel non-criminal regime to regulate abortion. To that argument I say this: The Greens believe that abortion should be addressed as a medical issue between a woman and her doctor in accordance with the comprehensive regulatory and ethical regime that governs all medical practice in New South Wales. Just as there is no separate regulatory regime to address other medical procedures such as hysterectomies, spinal surgery or even brain surgery, there is no principled reason—apart from a moral argument, which I reject—to place abortion in a separate regulatory regime in New South Wales.

For those who seek to critique the legal drafting of the bill, I note the unambiguous support that this bill has received from a number of legal bodies in New South Wales. I note it has received that support from Community Legal Centres NSW, the Australian Council for Civil Liberties and the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, Australian Lawyers For Human Rights and, critically, Women’s Legal Service NSW. The bill also requires doctors who have personal objections to abortion to refer any patients presenting for advice or procedures to another doctor. Some have suggested that this is an impermissible trespass upon the conscience of those doctors. I reject that argument. Anything less than what this bill provides is directly denying a person medical care. It should be obvious to everyone present that this is a necessary change.

In supporting this bill today I pay tribute to the many women throughout the community—in hospitals, legal centres, advocacy groups, workplaces and political parties such as The Greens—who have campaigned long and hard to get us to where we are today. To Dr Mehreen Faruqi and all her staff, as well as the many women inside my party who have worked on this for years: I commend your work. Today I am proud to provide my voice in support of the work and rights of women as championed by my close colleague, Dr Mehreen Faruqi.

An extraordinary amount of false information about this bill is being peddled by the likes of the Australian Christian Lobby and the Catholic Church. These bodies are peddling appalling and gratuitous misinformation. I only hope that a majority of MPs in this place have seen through their campaigns and have taken the time to read the bill and consider in detail exactly what it will do. As many members and critics of the bill have noted, this bill also makes changes that create safe access zones in a 150-metre radius around premises where abortions are performed. I note the contribution of the Hon. Penny Sharpe in relation to the real impact that will have on women.

The Greens are and always will be strong defenders of the right to protest. Indeed, my party has a proud legacy, both in this Parliament and on the street, of consistently supporting this right. We do not believe this bill is an infringement on this right. The stories of harassment and intimidation of women and staff at abortion providers is truly shocking. It is not hyperbole to call this violence against women—occasionally physical, but primarily emotional and psychological—at a time when women need support. We will not tolerate this kind of violence, and this Parliament should not tolerate it. Critics of safe access zones argue that they impose on the right to free speech, but this argument is specious at best. When similar laws were introduced in Victoria, the executive director of Women’s Health Victoria, Rita Butera, said:

Freedom of speech does not entitle someone to a captive and unwilling audience, nor does it give them the right to harass others …

I endorse those words. Denying someone the direct right to harass another person while they seek medical treatment is not an infringement of free speech, but it has a positive impact on the ability of women to access the medical care they need. Safe access to reproductive services is a fundamental human right and one that The Greens will always stand up for. I say again that this bill should not be controversial. It is 2017. We have an obligation to give women full control over their reproductive rights and remove abortion from the Crimes Act. I commend the bill to the House.

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