Australia

First stage of NSW abortion debate draws to a close

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NSW MPs are considering amendments to a bill which would decriminalise abortion in the state following a passionate two-day debate in parliament.

Two senior ministers have dropped an amendment to the New South Wales bill decriminalising abortion which would have required later-term abortions to be approved by a hospital advisory committee.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman and Planning Minister Rob Stokes' proposed changes had attracted strong criticism from the Australian Medical Association and abortion rights groups.

NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman speaks during amendments to the introduction to the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019.
NSW Attorney General Mark Speakman speaks during amendments to the introduction to the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019.
AAP

Mr Speakman on Thursday said he was no longer proceeding with the amendment as it had become clear such advisory committees weren't already "the invariable practice".

"It was never intended to put up something that would impede the relatively rare late-term terminations that are happening now," Mr Speakman said.

"I have been called many things and I am worthy of many criticisms but I don't think anyone has ever called me - until the last 24 hours - an extremist."

The Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 would allow terminations up to 22 weeks, as well as later abortions if two doctors, considering all the circumstances, agree the termination should take place.

Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich - who last week introduced the private member's bill - on Thursday wrapped up the first stage of lower house debate before MPs began considering a range of amendments.

NSW Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich speaks during amendments to the introduction to the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019.
NSW Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich speaks during amendments to the introduction to the Reproductive Healthcare Reform Bill 2019.
AAP

Mr Greenwich reiterated a woman's decision to end a pregnancy was a health matter, not a criminal one, meaning the existing framework was simply inappropriate.

Addressing concerns over the proposed legislation, Mr Greenwich said the 22-week threshold was appropriate and honoured recommendations by the AMA and the Queensland Law Reform Commission.

"We want women to have time to make an informed decision - any pressure or rush imposed by reducing the 22 week gestation period could have perverse impacts," he said.

Liberal MP Tanya Davies tried without success to change the point at which patients needed the consent of two doctors to 20 weeks.

 NSW Minister for Women Tanya Davies.
NSW Minister for Women Tanya Davies.
AAP

Mr Speakman and Mr Stokes did manage to pass a motion which would require doctors to receive informed consent - despite arguments it was already an obligation.

They also reached an agreement with supporters of the bill over changes stipulating which medical practitioners could perform late-term abortions.

MPs are considering amendments to the abortion bill after passionate debate in parliament. (AAP)
MPs are considering amendments to the abortion bill after passionate debate in parliament. (AAP)

Nationals MP Leslie Williams, one of the bill's 15 co-sponsors, moved some "clarifying" amendments which she said were consistent with existing clinical practice in NSW.

Included is a requirement that late-term abortions only be performed at public hospitals or other approved facilities.

Lower house MPs will vote on the bill after debate on the amendments concludes. Should that pass, the bill will then carry on to the upper house for consideration.

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