Australia

Anger as NSW premier delays abortion bill vote for several weeks

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has delayed the vote to decriminalise abortion for several weeks. Source: AAP

Abortion rights advocates have slammed the decision to postpone the vote, describing it as a 'perverse and ridiculous waste of time'.

A vote to decriminalise abortion in NSW will be delayed for several weeks after Premier Gladys Berejiklian caved to pressure from members of her party who are concerned the bill is being rushed.

Debate on the bill began in the NSW upper house on Tuesday evening, but the vote - which was expected to take place this week - will reportedly now not take place until mid-September.

On Tuesday afternoon, Deputy premier John Barilaro confirmed that the vote would not happen this week.

"We won't be able to deal with it this week, we will go off and have our break ... and we will come back after that and resume the debate and vote," he said. 

Pro-life and pro-choice advocates protest the bill.
Pro-life and pro-choice advocates protest the bill.
AAP

The move follows opposition from a number of Liberal frontbenchers, including Dominic Perrottet, Anthony Roberts and David Elliott.

In a press conference on Tuesday morning, six Liberal MPs joined a number of their cross-party colleagues to express their anger at the bill, which they claim has caused a "crisis of government". 

"I believe it is a crisis of government that we are facing because my community is absolutely outraged that they have been shut out and denied any opportunity to participate in this process," Liberal MP Tanya Davies, one of the key opponents to the bill, said. 

Ms Berejiklian had previously dismissed claims that the bill was rushed through.

"I have been in parliament for nearly 17 years and I can't remember a bill having so much debate in the lower house," she said.

On Tuesday night, as politicians debated the bill, thousands of anti-abortion activists gathered near NSW Parliament House, holding crosses, images of Jesus and placards.

Independent MP Alex Greenwich, who introduced the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 to the lower house earlier this month, said the upper house should "pass the bill as soon as possible".

"The NSW Legislative Assembly and people across the state have sent a clear message that it's time to decriminalise abortion," he said in a statement.

NSW Pro-Choice Alliance chair Went McCarthy also slammed the delay as a "perverse and ridiculous waste of time".

"Nothing will change in the next three weeks, but the same group of MPs, the same religious leaders, and the same political commentators will continue to present distorted information, disrespect women and make more attempts to further frustrate the process," she said. 

“We have been waiting for this bill for 119 years. I have been campaigning to see these laws changed for 50 years. We have waited too long and the women and doctors of NSW should not have to wait any longer."

Earlier on Tuesday, Ms Berejiklian took a swipe at federal Nationals MP Barnaby Joyce after he launched a robocall campaign against the bill, urging NSW residents to oppose it because he said it would allow for abortions to be performed "for any reason right up until the day of birth".

"The NSW parliament is for NSW parliamentarians to get views from their communities, to look at their own consciences and vote accordingly," Ms Berejiklian told reporters.

The private member's bill seeks to remove abortion from the state's 119-year-old Crimes Act and, if successful, would allow abortions up to 22 weeks to be performed by a registered doctor. For terminations after that point, the consent of two doctors would be needed.

The bill passed the lower house, 59 votes to 31, to cheers and applause earlier this month.

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