NSW abortion decriminalisation delayed after conservatives resist

A bill to decriminalise abortion in New South Wales has been delayed by a week after resistance from the conservative wing of the Coalition government.

The historic bill, co-sponsored by 15 MPs from across the political divide, had been due to be introduced into the parliament on Tuesday before being debated this week.

But at a party room meeting on Tuesday, conservative MPs complained the legislation was being rushed through parliament.

Shortly before question time one of the bill’s key architects, the independent MP Alex Greenwich, told reporters the legislation would not be introduced until Thursday, before being debated next week.

Greenwich acknowledged there had been “robust debate” about the legislation “throughout this building” and called for no further delays.

“I ask all members to put all political posturing aside and let’s all unite on behalf of women in our state to make sure that they have access to safe and legal abortions, which is what this bill will provide,” he said.

“Look, people have been advocating for this reform for decades. This is a law from the 1900s. I’m disappointed with any delay given to this. We need to move quickly in the interests of women in this state.”

Greenwich said the government was “locked in” to the new timetable.

“I have been in negotiation with the government for some time to make sure that we can resolve this issue as soon as possible,” he said.

“We now have that locked-in, committed-to timeline that cannot be played with [and] the government has assured me that we will be debating this with priority throughout next week.

“So it should go through the lower house next week. And I hope into the upper house. This timetable will not change again.”

The reproductive healthcare reform bill would remove abortion from the state’s criminal code and create a standalone healthcare act to regulate the procedure.

More than a dozen MPs, including the health minister, Brad Hazzard, are co-sponsoring the bill, which has the support of the premier, Gladys Berejiklian.

But despite that conservative figures have attempted to mount an insurgent campaign against the bill.

On Tuesday the Catholic archbishop of Sydney, Anthony Fisher, revealed he had written to the premier, together with the heads of the Anglican and Greek Orthodox churches, calling on her to delay the bill.

He said in a statement he had urged local priests and parishoners to contact local MPs to campaign against the bill, claiming it would “require Catholic (and other) doctors and hospitals to collaborate by either taking part in the abortion or referring patients to someone who will. It is yet another attack upon the rights of people of faith.

“It is the dream bill of the abortion industry, which they have already pressed upon several other states; but it will leave unborn children and unsupported pregnant women even more at risk,” he said.

The private member’s bill is based on laws in Queensland and Victoria and has the backing of the NSW branch of the Australian Medical Association and Pro-Choice Alliance.

Under the proposed legislation a woman would not commit an offence if she procures a termination within the bill’s framework. It would also repeal provisions of the Crimes Act relating to abortions and common law offences.

The bill would allow for terminations up to 22 weeks – and later if two doctors believe it should be performed given the medical, physical, social and psychological circumstances.

It would also create a new criminal offence under the Crimes Act for anyone who assists in terminations without authorisation.

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