NSW move to recognise crimes against unborn

NSW move to recognise crimes against unborn

Women's rights groups are warning that a New South Wales bill to recognise crimes against unborn children could threaten women's reproductive freedom.  

The bill, which is likely to debated in the state parliament next week, is the Crimes Amendment Bill 2013 - also known as Zoe's Law.


The amendment would - for the first time in Australia - recognise a crime of grievous bodily harm against an unborn child.


Zoe's law is so named after the stillborn child of New South Wales mother Brodie Donegan, who on Christmas Day 2009 was struck by a car as she walked down the street.


The injuries suffered by Ms Donegan resulted in the death of her fetus at 32 weeks gestation, but the driver was not charged with Zoe's death because the law did not recognise her as a person.


State Liberal MP Chris Spence says this needs to be changed.


"The closure and the grieving process is not finalised until the mother gets to confront the person in court and see them actually face charges for what is it theat they've done and clearly in Brodie's case the driver of this vehicle did not face charges that related to Zoe, she just faced charges of dangerous driving causing grevious bodily harm to Brodie herself."


Mr Spence says current federal and state laws require that when a fetus dies after 20 weeks gestation, the woman who was pregnant should be given birth and death certificates, and be able to conduct a funeral and be eligible for paid parental leave or the baby bonus.


He says the criminal law does not reflect the value put upon the life of the fetus by other government departments.


"A child is not recognised at law until they take a brief with the grevious bodily harm charge the reason that it's not listed as a separate charge currently because it is simply listed as an injury to the mother notwithstanding any other injury to the mother that the mother sustains."


A similar proposal was last year put forward by NSW Christian Democrat MP Fred Nile, but rejected by other MPs who feared it could in effect criminalise all abortions in the state.


Then late in August, Chris Spence introduced a rewritten bill to the parliament to amend the Crimes Act to establish a separate offence for conduct causing serious harm to or the destruction of a child in utero.


It also extends the offence of dangerous driving causing death or grievous bodily harm to relate to a child in utero.


Mr Spence the bill stipulates that the offence will not apply to medical procedures or to conduct engaged in with the consent of the mother.


"It is absolutely explicit that medical procedures are exempt and that anything done by or with the consent of the mother, it is absolutely nothing to do with abortion laws nor will it have any influence on them. If this law was going down that path then quite clearly we would outside of grevious bodily harm and we would have just gone to murder or manslaughter charges."


Currently across Australia, a fetus has no legal rights and is not considered to be a person.


However in several jurisdictions, a person can be charged with grevious bodily harm against a woman that results in the death of a fetus, but they cannot be charged with a crime against the fetus itself.


Chair of the national Women's Electoral Lobby Melanie Fernandez says the established law is enough to ensure that crimes against a fetus are punished.


"The concern that the women's sector has is that this bill establishes personhood for a fetus so it defines a fetus as a living person from 20 weeks or from 400 grams and so the concern that we have is that this legislation is being used to set precedent to then bring further legisation that rolls backs women's access to abortion and productive rights."


Women's groups are lobbying against Zoe's Law over concerns that it may interfere with a woman's right to an abortion.


Currently in New South Wales, abortion is a crime for women and doctors, but is deemed legal if a doctor believes a woman's physical or mental health is in serious danger.


Social and economic factors may also be taken into account.


The laws are similar in Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania, while the practice is legal in Victoria by request of the mother up to 24 weeks gestation and to 20 weeks gestation in Western Australia.


The cut off is 14 weeks in the Northern Territory, while the Australian Capital Territory have the most liberal regulations with no laws making specific reference to abortion within the state's Crimes Act.

The Women's Electoral Lobby Melanie Fernandez says the precarious nature of abortion laws in New South Wales could be tipped in favour of so-called pro-life values if Zoe's law is passed.


"The establishing in this thought of the fetus after a certain number of weeks and a seperate entity from the mother we have real concerns about what that will mean for abortion rights and we have real concerns about that further criminalising abortion in this this state and women who have terminations."



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