Australia

NSW MPs continue to debate historic abortion bill

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NSW MPs will continue to debate a bill decriminalising abortion, with the state's health minister urging his colleagues to support the draft legislation.

A peak medical body has criticised "unnecessary and insulting" proposed amendments to a bill decriminalising abortion in NSW, saying they would burden health professionals and risk delaying women's access to care.

The Australian Medical Association NSW says the amendments proposed by Attorney-General Mark Speakman and Planning Minister Rob Stokes go against the spirit in which the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 was introduced.

The objective of the bill to remove abortion from the NSW criminal code risks being derailed by "unfounded fearmongering", the AMA said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The clear intention of these amendments is to seek to impose an additional burden on medical practitioners and to delay access to care."

NSW Police speak to a woman during a rally outside the New South Wales Parliament house in Sydney.
NSW Police speak to a woman during a rally outside the New South Wales Parliament house in Sydney.
AAP

Mr Stokes and Mr Speakman's proposed changes include extra requirements for those seeking a termination after 22 weeks, including approval by a hospital advisory committee of at least four members.

The late-term procedures would have to be performed by a specialist medical practitioner - except in cases of emergency - and only in certain facilities.

In its current form, the private member's bill would allow terminations up to 22 weeks, as well as later abortions if two doctors considering all the circumstances agree the termination should occur.

Mr Speakman on Tuesday said while he broadly supported dealing with abortion outside of criminal law, he was unsure if he could support the legislation without amendment.

"I am troubled by the lack of reference in the bill to the informed consent of the patient. I am troubled by the open-endedness, at least on the face of the bill, for late-term abortions - whatever might be current medical practice," he told parliament.

"While there is majority support for the general notion of abortion not being dealt with by the criminal law, I sense that there is great community unease with late-term abortions."

But the AMA said requiring late-term abortions to be the subject of a committee review "would place women at significant risk of unnecessary delay and only add to their suffering".

Pro-choice advocates and supporters of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill hold a rally outside the New South Wales Parliament.
Pro-choice advocates and supporters of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill hold a rally outside the New South Wales Parliament.
AAP

"In the vast majority of cases, abortions after 22 weeks arise due to a significant abnormality in the foetus," the association said.

"Families and their doctors already face the most difficult decision of whether to end a wanted pregnancy and these amendments would draw out that process and make it more painful."

The proposed amendments were also criticised on Wednesday by women's rights group Fair Agenda and the NSW Pro-Choice Alliance, while MPs continued to debate the bill in the lower house.

They are expected to begin considering amendments - including separate proposals by other MPs - on Thursday after the debate concludes.

On Tuesday, Health Minister Brad Hazzard - one of 15 cross-party sponsors of the bill - urged his colleagues to support it, saying it was disturbing that the framework for abortion was still found in the state's Crimes Act.

Labor MPs Trish Doyle and Yasmin Catley, opposition leader Jodi McKay, Nationals MP Leslie Williams, Greens MP Jenny Leong and Liberal MP Matt Kean are also among those who support the proposed legislation.

Opponents include Police Minister David Elliott, Treasurer Dominic Perrottet, Corrections Minister Anthony Roberts and fellow Liberal MPs Tanya Davies and Kevin Conolly.

"I believe the purpose of this parliament is not to be a platform for the privileged, but a voice for the voiceless vulnerable, who cannot speak up for themselves," Mr Perrottet told parliament on Tuesday night.

"On this issue, the supporters of this bill are ignoring that obligation. They are also on the wrong side of history."

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