Australia

Uniting Church breaks ranks to back abortion decriminalisation in NSW

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In open letter to MPs ahead of expected debate on a bill to decriminalise abortions, a Uniting Church reverend has called for compassion.

The Uniting Church has broken ranks with other religious institutions to back the push to decriminalise abortion in NSW, declaring the church’s role should be to “offer care” and not “stand in judgement".

Last week, a private member’s bill seeking to remove abortion from the state criminal code was introduced to NSW parliament with bipartisan support.

Anti-abortion protesters at a rally outside the NSW Parliament house in Sydney.
Anti-abortion protesters at a rally outside the NSW Parliament house in Sydney.
AAP

While the push to end the 119-year criminalisation of abortion in the state is expected to pass, with the support of Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard, religious and political leaders weighed into the debate over the weekend.

Senior Sydney’s Catholic and Anglican clerics came out against decriminalisation, with St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral’s dean Reverend Don Richardson using Sunday Mass to declare the bill “another attack on the conscience rights of Catholics".

Earlier, Catholic Archbishop of Sydney Anthony Fisher declared the legislation had been “sprung on us” with “no notice or community consultation” and revealed he had written to the premier to ask she delays the bill.

His Anglican counterpart, Glenn Davies also urged politicians to condemn the bill.

Pro-choice advocates and supporters of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill.
Pro-choice advocates and supporters of the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill.
AAP

"I can't believe for the life of me that these respected parliamentarians would ever put their name to a bill which would kill an unborn baby the day before birth,” he said.

But in a surprising move, the United Church’s Reverend Simon Hansford used an open letter to MPs to argue that abortion was a health and social issue – not a criminal one.

"When abortion is practised indiscriminately it damages respect for human life. However, we live in a broken world where people face difficult decisions," the open letter reads.

United Church’s Reverend Simon Hansford has urged MPs to support the bill, in an open letter.
United Church’s Reverend Simon Hansford has urged MPs to support the bill, in an open letter.
Supplied

“Respect for the sacredness of life means advocating for the needs of women as well as every unborn child… whilst we encourage our ministers to remind people of the sacredness of life, the church’s role should be to offer care and support leading up to and following a decision, not stand in judgment.”

He later defended his break with other Christian denominations, including the Greek Orthodox church.

“We believe human life is God given – but to take the responsibility away from a woman is to misunderstand the value of her life and the importance of her decisions,” he later told Channel 10’s The Project.

NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard congratulates NSW Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich as he introduces the Reproductive Healthcare bill.
NSW Minister for Health and Medical Research Brad Hazzard congratulates NSW Member for Sydney Alex Greenwich as he introduces the Reproductive Healthcare bill.
AAP

"There's a whole series of understandings of what terminations are about. The reasons for it, women's lives, children's lives — a whole range of things and it can't be simplified down into a black and white issue."

The new bill, put forward by Sydney independent MP Alex Greenwich, will allow abortions up to 22 weeks and potentially later if two doctors believe they should be performed given the medical, physical, social and psychological circumstances.

It’s expected to be debated on Tuesday when parliament resumes.

Last year Queensland’s parliament voted to legalise abortion.

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