Hunter MPs back abortion bill

9th August 2019

Maitland MP Jenny Aitchison said it felt "surreal" when the Reproductive Health Care Reform Bill 2019 was passed in the Legislative Assembly 59 to 31 around 10.45pm on Thursday, after three days of debate. 

It allows abortion on request for women up to 22 weeks gestation performed by a registered doctor. 

Women will need the consent of two doctors for terminations after 22 weeks, which will be performed only at public health facilities. 

"It's amazing and was such a sense of relief," said Ms Aitchison, who along with Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper was one of 15 co-sponsors of the bill.

"Some women have been fighting this for longer than I have been alive. 

"I felt so lucky and privileged to be in there and part of it. It's such a fundamental right for women to be able to control their own bodies."

Mr Piper said viewing abortion through the lens of healthcare instead of crime "just makes sense". 

"We have a responsibility to do what's right and I think we have," he said. 

"To take the fundamental issue of womens' reproductive rights out of the criminal code after it was put in there by a bunch of privileged white men 119 years ago and maintained there largely by a similar cohort - it was a historic and a great thing to be part of." 

Mr Piper said several of the anti-abortion arguments, including that the bill would increase the number of terminations, had been "conflated". 

"This is not evil, it's not barbaric," he said. "It's compassionate. 

"For those women who find themselves in this situation, hopefully it will make their lives just that little bit easier. Because no woman chooses to have an abortion lightly. This is about them and their wellbeing." 

Deputy Labor leader and Swansea MP Yasmin Catley said the time was right to "address the abnormality" and "remove ambiguity". 

She said the outcome "met the expectations of the community", which she said felt criminalising abortion was "unjust". 

More than 60 MPs spoke on the bill before a preliminary vote on Thursday, to allow the bill to proceed to a debate over amendments. 

On Thursday night Liberal MP Tanya Davies' amendment that termination not be used for the purpose of gender selection was voted down. 

Nationals MP Leslie Williams said she did not believe gender selection was an issue in NSW. Her amendment that the Secretary of the Ministry of Health conduct a review of whether abortions were being performed for gender selection was passed. 

Ms Aitchison said Ms Davies' amendment was "premised on fairly offensive assumptions about women's behaviour rather than working with the communities that have issues". 

She said it was "another barrier" and may have led women to feel they couldn't raise the matter with their doctors. 

"You can't legislate for social change, you have to educate." 

She said some genetic conditions were gender specific. She told the house she and her sister had inherited a genetic disorder from their father and she wished she had known before having her children so she could have made an informed decision. 

Ms Williams also moved doctors who have a conscientious objection to abortion must refer women to doctors without objections. 

Ms Aitchison said debate in the house had been respectful, but the gallery had been "intense" at times. 

She said anti-abortion protesters had pushed crucifixes at her and "screamed out hysterically" during speeches. 

Student Aleeyah Clifford, who co-organised a pro-choice rally in Newcastle, travelled to Sydney and said it was "intimidating" to have insults including 'murderer' thrown at her. 

"Standing up and fighting for your rights and your beliefs, no matter what abuse is hurdled your way, is worth it for change," she said. 

"It was a phenomenal feeling to hear our politicians have heard our voices. 

"That our protests have meant something and have pushed for change." 

The bill will now proceed to a vote in the upper house.

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