Australia

Doctors, lawyers, activists demand end to NSW’s 'archaic, cruel' abortion laws

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Expert groups, doctors and lawyers are calling for New South Wales' "archaic" abortion laws to be reformed.

Australian human rights and medical bodies have published an open letter calling for changes to what they called NSW's "archaic, cruel, and degrading" abortion laws.

NSW is the only state in Australia that has not updated its abortion laws in more than 100 years and remains the only state in Australia where abortion is still considered a criminal offence, after Queensland decriminalised abortion in October this year. 

More than 30 organisations, including Amnesty International, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Australian College of Nursing, signed the open letter calling for abortion to be made legal in NSW.

They urged the NSW government to pass laws that would "promote the autonomy, dignity and well being" of women who need to end a pregnancy, by providing "safe, legal and compassionate access to abortion care."

Pro-choice campaigners in NSW
AAP

The letter outlined concerns that some women are required to travel hundreds of kilometres across state borders to access a safe abortion.

"We are very concerned that they increase the distress, delay and financial burden faced by a woman who needs abortion care and that they disproportionately harm women living in rural and remote areas, who already have limited access to healthcare," the letter states.

The signatories, which included the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, also advocated for qualified health practitioners to be free to provide the best care possible, without fear of criminal charges.

Supporters of creating a safe access zone around abortion clinics in NSW gather outside NSW Parliament House earlier this year.
Supporters of creating a safe access zone around abortion clinics in NSW gather outside NSW Parliament House earlier this year.
AAP

"It’s time that NSW’s abortion laws are made fit for today’s world, and that abortion is finally recognised as a health matter – as it is in Victoria, Tasmania, the ACT, Northern Territory and now Queensland," the letter read.

The termination of a pregnancy in NSW is lawful in cases where it's deemed necessary to preserve a woman from serious danger to her life, physical or mental health.

Pro-choice campaigners in NSW
AAP

In June this year, the NSW Parliament introduced 150 metre ‘safe access zones’ around reproductive health clinics to prevent protesters from harassing people outside abortion facilities.

At around the same time, then-NSW Opposition leader Luke Foley suggested Labor would seek to decriminalise abortion in NSW following Queensland's decision to do so.  

A change in Labor party leadership since has seen a change in that position.

A spokesperson for NSW Opposition Leader Michael Daley told SBS that, should Labor take government, it would ask the Law Reform Commission to review the state's abortion laws.

All Labor MPs will be allowed a conscience vote on the issue, under the policy.

In a statement provided to SBS news, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she expected a conscience vote would be exercised by the Liberal party if the law were to be addressed.

"This is one of those rare issues where every woman in NSW is likely to have their own view – and I want to ensure those views, along with those of the experts, are known and understood by all decision-makers before any changes are made," Ms Berejiklian said in a statement.

“I would expect Members of Parliament to be free to exercise a conscience vote on matters of this kind."

Full list of signatories 

  • Amnesty International Australia
  • Australian College of Nursing
  • Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Australian Medical Students Association
  • Australian Women’s Health Network
  • Australian Women Lawyers
  • Community Legal Centres NSW
  • Domestic Violence NSW
  • Fair Agenda
  • Family Planning NSW
  • Human Rights Law Centre
  • Kingsford Legal Centre
  • Marie Stopes Australia
  • National Council of Single Mothers and their Children
  • National Foundation for Australian Women
  • NSW Council for Civil Liberties
  • Our Bodies Our Choices
  • Penrith Women’s Health Centre
  • Pharmaceutical Association of Australia
  • Public Health Association of Australia
  • Public Interest Advocacy Centre Ltd
  • Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia
  • Rationalist Association of NSW Inc
  • Rationalist Society of Australia
  • Reproductive Choice Australia
  • Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists
  • The Private Clinic
  • Women’s Abortion Action Campaign
  • Women’s Electoral Lobby
  • Women’s Health NSW
  • Women Lawyers Association NSW
  • Women’s Legal Service NSW
  • YWCA

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